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.

1 Comment

  1. Reed Here said,

    May 4, 2022 at 10:43 am

    Wow.

    grateful for you and Jesus,

    Reed DePace, Pastor

    Historic First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, PCA

    http://www.1stmgm.com

    May God’s glory and joy be yours, Jude 1:24-25

    From: Green Baggins Sent: Friday, April 29, 2022 4:21 PM To: reedhere@gmail.com Subject: [New post] The OPC, GRACE, Diane Langberg, and Critical Theory

    greenbaggins posted: ” 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 w”

    The OPC, GRACE, Diane Langberg, and Critical Theory

    greenbaggins

    Apr 29

    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


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