The OPC, GRACE, Diane Langberg, and Critical Theory

Part 2: Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Power and Critical Theory, by Rev. Michael Grasso

In part 1 we looked at Critical Theory and saw that it is rooted in (neo)-Marxism and postmodernism.  With this overview in mind, it will be helpful to see the way in which Langberg’s book on abuse fits into the framework of Critical Theory.  In Redeeming Power Langberg attempts to show the roots of abuse by explaining the way power is abused in order to hurt the vulnerable.  This part of the articles is highly critical, but this does not mean there is nothing of value in Langberg’s book.  She has much experience working with abuse victims, and there are positive things that can be gleaned from her writings.  Her perspective, however, ultimately is in line with Critical Theory and therefore is dangerous.

Intersectionality

Langberg adopts the basic framework of Critical Theory in her repeated use of intersectional categories, adding one’s church and theology to the list typically used by Critical Theorists.  She writes:

  • “We believe our denomination or our church has the only correct doctrine. We believe our race is superior and needs to be protected above others at all costs.”[1]
  • “We believe only one gender, one race, one group is capable of holding power.”[2]
  • “We follow the One who said, ‘I am . . . the truth’ (John 14:6 ESV)—not I will show you the truth; not if you memorize these things , you will have the truth; not if you are in the right church, race, or nation, you will know the truth.”[3]
  • “We are not seeking pure theology, a pure race, or an appearance of purity. The only purity we seek is that of having a heart governed by the Lord Christ.”[4]
  • “Have we, children of the Most High God, sorted precious humans by earthly categories of politics, economics, race, gender, religion, denomination, education, employment, or citizenship? Have we created divisions as we reductively use such categories to separate, dismiss, and condemn the other? ‘We’ are this; ‘they’ are that.”[5]
  • “And our Head, in his love for humanity, broke down every barrier, including the barriers of race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, and morality.”[6]

The assumption in all of these quotations is that viewing people intersectionally is the standard position of the church and the reason why abuse happens.  Abuse is produced by intersectional realities and oppression.  Fighting against abuse in the church means opposing the idea that one gender, race, group, even religion is better than another.  There are two potential meanings of these quotes.  First, if what is meant is simply that the church should not see through the lens of intersectionality, these quotes would not be a problem.  If, however, what is meant is that the church’s problem is not the use of intersectionality but rather that it has focused on the wrong classes, i.e., the church has favored the oppressing class rather than the oppressed class, then Langberg is making use of the framework for Critical Theory. 

Langberg, unfortunately, means the latter as will be shown.  One element of Critical Theory is that there is an assumption that those in power are guilty of making use of intersectionality in the ways Langberg describes.  This is to grant a major premise of the Marxist system of Critical Theory.  If the problem is defined in accordance with Critical Theory, that is, the church has sought to elevate one race, gender, group above another, then the solutions sought must be along the lines of Critical Theory as well.

This is not to say that the church could never be guilty of preferring one group over another.  This, of course, is possible, but it needs to be proved with concrete examples that do not make use of a Marxist/postmodern framework.  Langberg’s understanding of the corruption of systems of power, however, is exactly in line with Critical Theory where the assumption is that those in power also see themselves through intersectional lenses.  One application of intersectional thinking to Critical Theory used consistently throughout the book is feminism.

Feminism

Langberg defines abuse along intersectional lines for more than just gender.  She adopts the basic framework of Critical Race Theory in her discussion of race in chapter 8, but the most consistent and adamant intersectional category Langberg appeals to is gender.  Critical Theory applied to gender manifests itself in feminism.  This can be seen in a number of ways in Langberg’s writing, particularly as she tries to deny the biblical position of male headship, reinterpreting it in a radical egalitarian way.  First, she uses Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that men are not to rule over women:

“What did God tell them to rule over? Over the fish, the birds, the cattle, the whole earth, and every creeping thing. Note the stunning omission in God’s directive: nowhere does he call humans to rule over each other! The man is not told to rule over the woman; neither is the woman to rule over the man. They are to rule together, in a duet, over all else God has created.”[7]

For Langberg this implies that men and women are equal in authority.  This exegesis fails as it is based on the logical fallacies of a negative inference and an argument from silence.[8]

Second, she argues that Genesis 3:16 teaches that male headship is a result of the fall and therefore not a part of God’s original creation.  This is a classic feminist argument used to oppose male headship.[9]  She writes,

“Deceived by God’s archenemy, they acted outside the realm of God, and life was forever changed. In response, God spoke with them about the outcome of their choice. To Eve, he said in part, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (3:16 NIV). We have lost sight of the fact that this is part of what we call the curse. This is not instruction for the man. It is a consequence of wrong and sinful choices.”[10]

Such exegesis flies in the face of 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-12 where Paul clearly grounds male headship in creation, not the fall.

Third, she argues that Christ came to serve, not to rule, and he is the model of all headship.  She writes,

“To be a head means to turn the curse upside down, not to rule over others. The Son of Man did not rule, though his disciples longed for him to do so.”[12]  These arguments misunderstand Christ’s statements.  He exercised his headship by serving others, but he still maintained that headship and authority throughout.  Christ’s statements give insight into how men in proper contexts (e.g. marriage) are to use authority, not whether or not they have it.  In an effort to deny male headship her misunderstanding leads to the strange statement that Christ “did not rule”.  Surely one of the most basic elements of the Christian confession is that Christ is our King and he has all authority (cf. Matt. 28:18-20).  Langberg admits this in other places but denies it in this context inconsistently to make room for a feminist conclusion regarding headship. 

Her position becomes clear when she writes, “Yes, pastors and elders have authority over the sheep. Husbands and wives have power over each other.”[13]  This is immediately followed by a false dichotomy created between love and authority, implying that if a relationship has an authority structure there can be no love.  That this is a false dichotomy can be seen in one’s relationship to Christ, which is one where there is both authority and love.

For Langberg, the traditional and biblical view of gender is the cause of some of the abuse in the world and in the church.  She writes,

“Abuse of power is a cancer in the body of Christ. How Christendom uses terminology regarding gender is sometimes an aspect of the disease. We need to let the light of a holy God expose us and our systems… We simply keep repeating theological words almost like a mantra: leader, head, submission, authority, God ordained . We need to drag into the light those things we cover with familiar and good words and test them to see whether our labels and our applications are of God. Many are not.”[14]

Again she writes, “Sadly, authoritarian treatment of females (and all church members) is often supported using the concept of headship.”[15]  The question, however, is this: Does abuse of authority invalidate its proper use? Do examples of people abusing headship mean that headship as a whole must go?  This is one of the strategies used in Critical Theory to undermine authority.  Abuse of authority in some situations means the entire system must go.  The traditional view of gender, however, rooted in Scripture, was given by God for the good of both men and women.

Truth Dependent on One’s Intersectional Class

Langberg undermines the traditional view of gender and more particularly femininity, not on the basis of Scripture, but on the basis of intersectional perspective: “Much has been said throughout the centuries about what it means to be female. Men have said most of it. Women have been labeled the weaker sex, the second sex, the subordinate sex, and the devil’s gateway.”[16]  Not all of these titles are the same, but the first is the clear teaching of 1 Peter 3:7.  The thing important to see for the purposes of this article is that the gender of those who taught on the differences between men and women is significant for determining whether or not it is true.  Note: “Men have said most of it…”  This is a very clear example of a postmodern view of epistemology.  There is a prejudice against the perspective of men as they speak to the nature of women. 

Langberg’s prejudice against men’s speech (the oppressing class) is matched by her deference to women (the oppressed class) when determining truth.  She recounts the early days of her career when she dealt with women who came to her with stories of abuse.  She writes,

“Women asked to see me because I was female, not because I knew anything. I was twenty-three. I listened, asked questions, and told them honestly that I knew nothing and would have to be their student first. I was told by male supervisors not to believe their hysterical stories and lies about “good” men. I chose to listen to the women rather than to my supervisors.”[17]

Note the emphasis on the gender of supervisors as well as that of the abused.[18]  Her choice to believe was greatly affected by the gender of those she interacted with.  This is the hallmark of postmodernism and intersectionality.  There is a “truth” specific to a class.  When the “oppressed class” receives automatic deference because of intersectional identity, this moves into the realm of Critical Theory.  There is an abiding, deep mistrust of “systems of power” ruled by men.  Against this postmodern view of truth, however, the only criteria that should be considered when there are competing stories in a purported abuse situation is the truth.  This will mean believing men sometimes and women sometimes but never because of their gender.

This feminist postmodern framework undermines the authority of Scripture and all ecclesiastical authority.  Langberg’s statement concerning what men have said in the past about women opens the door for questioning the Bible, as it was also written by men.  If Langberg does not like that men have historically called women “the weaker sex”, will she take issue with the Apostle Peter (cf. 1 Pet. 3:7)?  This has always been the logic used by radical feminists to cast off the authority of the Bible going back to the 19th century.  Davies notes that first wave feminists complained about “male interpretations” of the Bible.  This produced a “vicious cycle” wherein subordinated women were unable to engage in theology established by men which taught women were to be subordinated.[19]  According to Davies, in light of this, Elizabeth Cady Stanton “claimed that the Bible, owing to its profound religious and cultural authority, had been instrumental over the centuries in establishing and consolidating patriarchal exercise of power and in denying women some of their basic rights and freedom.”[20]  The result was the dismissal of the Bible.

This view presents a problem for all biblically based ecclesiastical authority as well.  The reality is the teachings of the Scriptures on the nature of men and women will always be said “mostly by men” because men are the only ones who can have ordained teaching positions in the church.  The only way to rectify the situation would be to do away with male only ordination.

Langberg’s postmodern epistemology goes beyond feminism.  She makes the same moves with regard to race/ethnicity:

“We tend not to even see how culture has shaped us. Many years ago, I heard a white pastor speak about a meeting he had with an African American pastor who told him, ‘You white folks don’t even know you have a culture. You think your way is simply right and the rest of us have cultures.’ That observation exposes both the blindness and the arrogance of a dominant culture.”[21]

To keep this article from reaching a tedious length, her view on race will not be expounded further.  The same general features regarding feminism can be applied to race, making her view consistent with Critical Race Theory.  Note that modern feminism and Critical Race Theory are manifestations of the same Critical Theory applied to different intersectional categories.  Advocates of Critical Race Theory openly admit this connection: “As the reader will see critical race theory builds on the insights of two previous movements, critical legal studies and radical feminism, to both of which it owes a large debt.”[22]

All of this is highly problematic and shows that Diane Langberg’s general framework is postmodern and embraces Critical Theory, especially as it is expressed in feminism.  Part 3 will continue the critique of her working focusing on the implications for the church.


                [1] Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020), 37.

                [2] Ibid.

                [3] Ibid, 41.

                [4] Ibid, 42.

                [5] Ibid, 55.

                [6] Ibid, 156.

                [7] Ibid, 5.

                [8] A negative inference is where positive examples of a thing are put forward and these examples are used to prove that a negative is true.  An example that Carson gives in his Exegetical Fallacies (101ff) is “All Jews like Moses”, “a certain person is not a Jew”, therefore “that person does not like Moses”.  The problem is that other kinds of people besides Jews could like Moses, i.e., Christians.  So here: males and females rule over all creation (positive), a woman is not part of the creation being ruled in Genesis 1 (negative), therefore there is no hierarchy of authority between the males and females (negative). 

                [9] Cf. the CEB’s statement on “Defining Biblical Gender Equality”, point 5 under Creation: “The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order.”  For an exegetical discussion of the passage as it relates to feminism and egalitarianism, see Zachary Garris, Masculine Christianity (Ann Arbor, MI: Zion Press, 2020), 120ff, where he interacts with Davidson.  See also  Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1–3,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 110ff where he interacts with Bilezikian.

                [10] Ibid, 102-3.

                [11] Ibid, 103.

                [12] Ibid, 104.

                [13] Ibid, 179.

                [14] Ibid, 93-4.

                [15] Ibid, 103.

                [16] Ibid, 95-6.

                [17] Ibid, 92.

                [18] My point is not to say that a woman should never seek counsel from another woman.  It is simply that the gender of the supervisors and the gender of the abused are factored into one’s view of truth.

                [19] Eryl W. Davies, Biblical Criticism: A Guide for the Perplexed, Guides for the perplexed (London ; New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 37-8.

                [20] Ibid, 38.

                [21] Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power, 46.

                [22] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 3rd ed. (New York: NYU Press, 2017), 5.

Thoughts on Sermon Prep for Narrative

Posted by R. Fowler White

Whenever I’m preaching or teaching regularly, one thing I do is to reflect on what I’m doing (or not doing) in preparation and trying to figure out how to prepare better. This is particularly the case when I’m surveying a major narrative division within the canon (such as the five books of Moses) or expounding the pericopes in a specific narrative document (such as the Gospel according to Mark).

In seminary I was taught exegesis and homiletics, first in the NT letters and later in Ruth and the Psalms, with basic references to the literary dimensions of the text. As you can see from that synopsis, the instruction I received was customary but light on narrative. Understandably, the emphasis, as I remember it, was consistently on details of the original text, with a view to expounding the text verse by verse (sentence by sentence). Missing was instruction on expounding the text scene by scene. Over time, I’ve found that, though there is some overlap between the two, the work on each is a different, sometimes very different, skill set. As a result, I’ve reflected more on my approach to narrative in particular. Here, then, are some thoughts on what I’ve found expounding OT and NT narrative.

The approach I’ve settled on over time seems to revolve around four sequential steps. First, I identify the discreet component scenes of a narrative section. Second, the most challenging step: I summarize “the story/plot/drama developments” from scene to scene, trying to avoid simply retelling the details unless they were crucial. Third, with that summary in mind, I seek to discern the (biblical- and systematic-) theological point(s) being made in each scene. Last, I answer the question, what does the Holy Spirit speaking through the text want readers or hearers to know, or be, or do in light of this passage?

I’m sure that the preceding comes off as fairly basic and commonplace advice. Then again, the more I’ve dealt with narrative, the more I’m pushed to see that responsible exposition, particularly in a survey narrative series, necessitates giving folks the macrostructures and major storylines of the Bible tethered to the theology being develop in the text. This is usually the case because folks don’t generally know the Bible as well as they must to hear an exposition of its narratives, especially in the OT, with profit. For example, in general, I’ve found that, when it comes to the OT narratives, their theology seems to keep coming back to the ways in which they expose transgressions, on the one hand, and to evangelize transgressors, on the other. As the actors in the text keep failing, the Lord keeps calling them to repent and trust Him alone as their Redeemer or to face Him as their Judge, especially once Jesus, the Son of Abraham and David, appears in history.

To fill out the picture even more fully, maybe it would help to combine the points above with a grid of questions and tasks for exposition that I’ve found myself using. That grid includes the following questions: what does the text indicate that God wants readers (or hearers) to know, to be, or to do? What are the topic and the purpose of the text? What are the doctrine and the duty in the text? With answers to the preceding questions in mind, my focus turns to more specific tasks. Here’s what I have in mind. Develop an outline and fill in its details so that it lays out the argument of the text. Wherever there are connections between the teaching of the text and the teaching of the Reformed confessions and catechisms, bring out those connections in your outline or exposition. When it comes to expounding an OT or NT narrative, make conscious reference to the Apostle’s instruction in 2 Tim 3:15-17, highlighting in the text the person and work of Christ, the offers of grace, and the warnings of judgment. When it comes to expounding an OT text, keep before yourself the Letter to the Hebrews and Christ’s example in Luke 24:25-27, 44-46. Regardless of the narrative’s place in redemptive history, present God’s gospel, His law, and His Christ in His sufferings and glory.

I’m sure that there are readers who can identify and provide more and better thoughts than those above.

“God the Father Almighty”

Posted by R. Fowler White

The twelve articles that make up the Apostles’ Creed are extraordinary anchors to the historic Christian faith, even if we recognize that they are not the rule of faith and practice that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are. Yes, it will be crucial to understand that the Holy Spirit speaking in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament Scriptures is our final authority, the supreme judge of all controversies of religion and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and claims to private revelations. We are taking the Apostles’ Creed, then, as a help and a tool, not as a rule, to help us organize our reflections on what the Scriptures teach us in regard to faith and practice. Then we can use what we gain to evangelize our family and friends and to defend the Christian faith against its detractors.

We begin where the Creed begins: with our confession concerning God the Father and creation. Scripture and history show us that no individuals, families, churches, or nations can ever rise above the faith that they have in the God of their worship. When some declare, “In God we trust,” we must ask, “Who is the God in whom you trust?” Their answer and ours determines everything in our lives. If the object of our trust is wrong, we’ll get the whole world—ourselves included—wrong. There is scarcely any falsehood in our faith or any failure in our practice that doesn’t go back to false and faulty thoughts about God. The importance, then, of right beliefs about God simply cannot be overestimated. Who, then, is your God: the God revealed in Scripture, or the God envisioned in your imagination? Don’t shrug off the question: we cannot just “believe in God” and be saved. No, we must believe in the one true God: that is, as the Creed (following Scripture) expresses it, the God who is is God in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

With questions and realities like those above, we take up the first article of the Creed, wherein we Christians confess faith in God the Father Almighty. We realize, first, that to confess faith in God the Father Almighty is to confess faith that God can and will do all that He intends. Whatever the Lord pleases He does (Ps 135:6). He is the one and only omnipotent Being (Deity) who reigns over His world. By contrast, man cannot do whatever he pleases. Man’s power to do what he intends is conditioned by creatureliness and sinfulness; his power is limited, dependent. God’s power to do all that He intends is not limited, not dependent, not conditioned by anything or anyone whom He has made. As the Apostle Paul declares, He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). And note well: God’s almightiness extends to His power over evil and sin. Because He is most holy and righteous, He is not and cannot be the author or approver of evil and sin. Granted, there is mystery related to the origins of evil and sin in God’s creatures, but this much is revealed to us: evil and sin originated in the creatures alone and not from the Creator God. No, the one true God displays His power and wisdom as, without fail, He accomplishes good purposes even out of the evil designs of man (as Joseph confessed before his brothers, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good [Gen 50:20]). Because of His almightiness, then, God the Father overrules even evil and sin.

We Christians who confess faith in God the Father Almighty also confess faith in Him as Maker (Creator) of heaven and earth. The one true God is before creation, eternal, far above time and space. He is other than the world; the world—“the Universe” as it is sometimes personified these days—is not God, personal or impersonal. Before the world came to be, there was only God and nothing else, and it is He who created the world from nothing.

Moreover, the Creator God, though invisible, is revealed in the visible world He created. In the words, deeds, and products of creation documented in Genesis 1-2, we are made wiser about God’s person, word, work, and will. We learn that He created the world to be inhabited (Isa 45:18), to be constructed of places in which His creatures would exist, and He with them. By revelation, we know that the earth was given form and fullness in six creation days. In the first three God gave the earth light and form: where there had been only darkness and deep, there was now light, sky, land, and sea. In the second three days God gave the earth fullness: where there had been emptiness in sky, land, and sea, there were now residents. As a result of those six days of creative word and deed, we are made wiser to see that it is the Creator God who rules over the world He created. And we should note: the world is not about His creatures, as glorious as they were at their origin. The world is about His glory, His weightiness, His name, His fame; His perfections, His grandeur, His beauty.

Having exchanged the glory of the Creator for the glory of the creation and of creatures, our post-Christian world prefers an alternative narrative of the world’s beginning. And do note: it is a narrative that has made us foolish. “Nature” with her Forces, we’re told, is our Mother goddess whom it’s not nice for us to fool. Allegedly, her Forces control life and death, prosperity and adversity, victory and defeat. It is Mother Nature that determines who lives or dies, who succeeds or fails, who wins or loses. It is the Mother goddess that determines that only the fittest survive and flourish, and it is She who identifies the fittest as—surprise, surprise—none other than those who worship and serve themselves as divine and the rest of creation as divine.

By contrast, the Creator God revealed in Scripture is the architect and builder of heaven and earth. It is He who gave form to the world so that it is His palace, heaven His throne and earth His footstool. It is He who also gave fullness to the world: heaven and earth are full of His glory. It is He who controls life and death, prosperity and adversity, victory and defeat. By this revelation, we are made wise, learning that nothing in creation is divine. All worship and service are for the one true God, who alone is Maker of heaven and earth. In Scripture, the first fact of life that we must face is that the Creator of heaven and earth is alone God, and that His claim upon us humans and upon the non-human world is absolute. Indeed, the Creator-creature distinction is the crux of all true thought about all that is, seen and unseen.

As we said above, the identity of the God in whom we believe determines everything in our lives. If we doubt the validity of that point, stop for a moment and consider the confusion rampant in our culture. Although we know the Creator God through all that He made we do not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him. We have become futile in our thinking and our foolish hearts have become darkened. If our society is to recover from its confusion, and if we Christians are to avoid its confusion, we must hold fast and hold forth the historic truth we confess: we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.