On the OPC GA and Apologies

The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church recently concluded. No one could say it was uneventful. While I was not in attendance this year, an incident occurred that I believe needs some comment. Eastern University hosted the GA this year. Very near the beginning of GA, Eastern alerted the OPC to four alleged incidents of egregious racism. Two of them were by an OPC minister (I do not know who at this point, and it doesn’t really matter, anyway, in terms of what I wish to say), attempting to make jokes, and achieving what I would call “an unsuccessful attempt at humor.” The third incident, if it even happened at all, was not by an OPC delegate or member. The fourth incident was a misunderstanding in the cafeteria later cleared up, as I understand. This is what I understand second hand, let the readers be clear, and this evaluation of the four incidents was only possible later.

At the beginning, Eastern would only tell the OPC that there were these four incidents, and that if another such incident happened, EU would enforce its zero tolerance policy (which would have the effect of nullifying the contract). Eastern conducted no thorough investigation before the communication that was read on the floor. The OPC’s reply was an immediate statement:

“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly. There is no place in the church for such conduct. The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God. Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people. In keeping with the law of God and the right order of the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Eastern University to confront offender(s) and seek reconciliation.”

As I understand it, no amendment was effectively allowed to occur, and very little time allowed to dissent or object. This “apology” (I put this in quotation marks since, as I understand it, the intent was not an apology, though it seems to have been interpreted as one by EU) was issued on the basis of witnesses, but not a thorough investigation to examine whether there might have been mitigating circumstances, or whether the alleged offences amounted to what Eastern thought they did. As it turned out (from where I sit, admittedly looking at this from a distance), there was little to apologize for in the end. The most egregious was the third, which was not committed by an OPC member/delegate at all. The first sentence is one I still regard as problematic, even though my understanding of what was meant has been tweaked by people in the know. The “disgust” of the first sentence is at the sins reported, and is not meant to imply that the alleged offender was automatically guilty. While this is the intended meaning, it could easily be interpreted as an actual apology. It seems to have been so interpreted by EU, which pronounced the matter as closed upon receiving this communication. This whole situation raises some very important questions in my mind.

Why did we make an apologetic sounding statement before conducting a thorough investigation? Why did Eastern University shoot first and ask questions later? While I am told they cooperated with the OPC in a cordial fashion afterwards, why the ultimatum at all? The ultimatum makes it sound as though they already believed the initial reports. The statement of the OPC (which kinda sorta looks like an apology, or at least has an apologetic tone to it) in its effect, is easily misunderstood. I am getting lots of different reactions as to what it means already. Why was no amendment effectively allowed to the apology? Why was pressure exerted to pass this “apology” with no dissent? The whole thing was rushed in its adoption. Apparently, the “apology” was enough for Eastern, and they thought the matter closed. Why, when no thorough investigation had been done up to that point? From where I am looking, there were no incidents of egregious intentional racism, only misunderstanding, and possibly lack of wisdom, certainly not intentional racism. At the very least, it seems clear that the OPC GA should not be held at Eastern University again, if “guilty until proven innocent” is going to be their mindset.

UPDATE: I am getting lots of valuable feedback from members of the GA who were present, and they are refining my understanding of what went on. I have already updated the post twice, and I expect to update it more to achieve greater accuracy. There are many different perspectives already on what went on that I have heard, many of them contradictory of each other. It will probably take some time before a final understanding of what happened is actually possible.

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.

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.

Contradictions in the Bible?

Odil Steck’s book entitled Old Testament Exegesis: A Guide to the Methodology (2nd edition), published 1998, by SBL, is a very interesting book, because it lays out the nuts and bolts of liberal critical exegetical methodology in very practical ways. It is very much a “this is how you do it” kind of book, rather than a merely theoretical book. What is especially fascinating to a reader who disagrees with much, if not most, of the methodology espoused, is the reasoning behind the particular methodologies. What I wish to interact with and critique in this post is the following quotation, from page 79:

[I]t is necessary to offer a warning against the opinion that one can, or even should, limit oneself solely to exegesis of the final form of the text reached in BH and thereby avoid the hypothetical inquiry into older stages. In numerous cases, the final form of an Old Testament text indicates complex, even contradictory statements which must be clarified. Therefore, these statements force one to diachronic analysis (literary cricitism, see chapter 4) and synthesis (redaction history). Of course, the meaning intended in the final form must also be determined. However, it is only discernible if one can grasp the productive reaccentuation of the last hand. This task, however, presupposed clarification of the previous stages which have the same status as the final form of the text in the riches of the Old Testament witness. A so-called “holistic exegesis” must ask itself how it will avoid exegetical arbitrariness without diachronic textual perspective.

It is plain that Steck views contradictions as self-evident in the text of Scripture (this is also proven by several other places in his book where he speaks of “undeniable inconsistencies” (p. 48), and by his claim that the liberal critical methodologies were “not decreed by exegetes, but were occasioned by the biblical subject matter itself” (20). To put it somewhat crassly, his position is that the “text made me do it.” What is interesting is the way he has tipped his hand. The lynchpin of his argument is contradictions that are supposedly undeniable. What this implies is that if the contradictions are explainable in some other way, then his whole house of exegetical cards comes tumbling down. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that these supposed contradictions might not be contradictions at all. They simply have to be contradictions in his mind. There is simply no other way to read the text, according to Steck.

Secondly, he claims that the earlier stages have the same status as the final form. It is not clear on what basis he makes this claim. The cynical reader will think to himself, “Well, the exegete gets to determine what the previous layers are, and so he can fashion his own Bible, and thus make the Bible say what he wants it to say.” This is probably not far from the truth, as speculative as it might be about someone else’s motives. A close look at Steck’s criteria reveal that OT texts, in order to be coherent, have to be modernly coherent. A classic example is doublets. More recent literary approaches have different explanations than diachronic ones for material that is repeated. The diachronic critic, however, has to use doublets as examples of literary layering. This anachronistically forces a modern literary sensibility on to an ancient text. Hebrew, in particular, has a penchant for repetition, especially since there are no comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. One can form a comparative by using the preposition min. But it won’t be in the form of the adjective itself. Repetition, therefore, serves useful literary purposes and is enormously common in the Old Testament.

Thirdly, the real kicker is the last sentence. Apparently, it is only the holistic exegete who cannot (or would have great difficulty to) avoid “exegetical arbitrariness.” Is Steck really lacking in self-awareness to the point where he does not recognize that every single liberal-critical “layer” approach to any text in the OT whatsoever is debated, even in liberal-critical circles? If they cannot agree on these things, then how does the diachronic exegete avoid the charge of arbitrariness? What makes one diachronical approach better than another? What are the criteria by which one would navigate those waters? Arbitrariness quickly raises its ugly head in the diachronic school with a vengeance. I think I will stick with synchronic methods that depend on historical research, linguistic sensitivity, biblical-theological appreciation for the Bible’s organic unfolding nature, and the presupposition of inspiration of the final form of the text

A New Baggins

I am delighted to announce that the GB has a new Baggins. Maybe we ought to call him a Took or a Brandybuck. Nah. In here we’re all Bagginses. The Rev. Steve Carr has agreed to become a Baggins, and I look forward to seeing his posts on here.

Sovereignty, Satan, Saruman, Sauron, and Spying Scary Stuff

There is in Christian circles today a pandemic of fear. Two main fears have presented themselves. One, of a virus; the other, of government. These two fears are threatening to drown out the fear of God. They are also threatening to undermine Christians’ belief in the sovereignty of God. People are behaving as if a virus or the government is becoming or already is more powerful than God.

There is a variety of reactions visible at the moment. Some take the cocoon approach. Others display a sort of obsession to know the worst, and they tend to wallow in the bad news, thinking that if they can just know the worst, then they will retain some degree of control over the situation. This latter reaction is the one I am primarily addressing.

The primary analogy I wish to use is that of Saruman and Denethor’s twin desires to know everything through the seeing stones (the palantiri). The problem with both of them using the palantiri is that Sauron controlled the flow of information. They both saw only what Sauron wanted them to see. As a result, Saruman capitulated to what he saw and feared. Denethor went mad with hopelessness, even though he did not capitulate to Sauron’s tyranny. They were both tempted by the same thing: the thought that knowledge equals power equals control. The problem for them both was that Sauron was stronger, and the flow of information was controlled. They couldn’t see anything that Gandalf would have wanted them to see, nor could they see anything that would give them hope.

In our modern age, the information is also being controlled in a majority of cases. It is not news (usually!) to report positive things in this world. What makes the news is almost universally negative. The flow of information is carefully controlled in order to present a world that is spiraling out of control, especially out of God’s control. Fear is very intentionally the goal of much of this information flow. The actual Sauron (Satan) is a master of misinformation. He is directing his forces to paint a very negative picture so that people who could actually do anything about the situation are paralyzed.

This picture is quite misleading. In Revelation 12, if you didn’t know how the story turns out, you would think that the brainy and brawny dragon very obviously was going to win. At the very least, you would probably have put your money on the dragon. Except, he doesn’t win. In fact, he is shown to be laughably, absurdly impotent. He can’t even destroy a woman in labor with her infant child? The lesson of Revelation 12 is that appearances are deceptive. It might look like evil is gaining the upper hand, but in the spiritual realm, this is never the case. And the physical realm does not control what goes on in the spiritual world. If anything, it is the reverse.

We need to learn the lesson of not fearing anything or anyone but God Almighty. His sovereignty cannot be seriously challenged. His plan, however incomprehensible to us at the moment, will eventually be evident as the best possible plan. Worried obsession with information will get us nowhere. It will not result in the control we think we are gaining. Instead, it will only result in capitulation (a la Saruman) or the madness of despair (like Denethor). Instead, we need to be meditating on the actual battle in the spiritual realm, reflecting on the sure and certain knowledge that God cannot possibly lose. Indeed, He has already won.

On Evangelism in the Old Testament

I just finished reading this slim volume, hot off the press, written by a minister attending the congregation I serve. It is a commonplace belief that claims there is little to nothing that the Old Testament contributes towards the idea of evangelism. Dr. Norm De Jong begs to differ. Some key insights: 1. Evangelism might have a larger purview than we thought before; 2. God is a direct evangelist in the OT; 3. The sovereignty of God is so far from being any kind of obstacle to evangelism that it actually accomplishes evangelism. 4. Any book that helps us connect the OT and NT together is worthy of our attention, and this is the only lay-person oriented book to take up this subject.

A New Baggins?

She prefers “Galadriel” to Baggins, but you can follow my daughter Ila’s new blog over at Galadriel’s Musings.

Unity in Psalm 133

Psalm 133 is very often quoted or sung in presbytery and general assembly meetings in the PCA and OPC. Rightfully so. It makes unity look very attractive indeed. However, whether the psalm is always rightly understood (in terms of how this unity comes about) may be doubted.

Two images serve to make unity attractive. The proprietary anointing oil coming down on Aaron’s beard, and the dew of Mount Hermon coming down to Zion (quite a ways from Mount Hermon, incidentally!) have one thing in common: both the oil and the dew come down, a fact noted by several commentators. It is not too much of a stretch to see a sort of geographical irony here, in that a psalm of ascent has something coming down.

More theologically, however, something coming down in this manner, particularly the dew of Mount Hermon, points to God’s grace. This unity is not so much an achievement, as it is a gift (see Kidner’s commentary, 134). All too often, unity is preached as law, not as gospel, as something which we achieve with little or no reference to God’s grace at all. Even when we pray for unity, our thoughts often run more along the lines of God’s simple enabling, rather than God’s grace actually accomplishing the unity.

The unity in question is a powerful one. If the dew of Mount Hermon (which is located in the far north of Israel) has repercussions for Zion, in the south, the implications have to do with the north-south tension already in evidence in David’s day. If this is a psalm of David, then the north-south tensions were already a matter for prayer. All the more so later on, when the two kingdoms split, but people still sang this psalm when they went up to Jerusalem for the feasts.

In Christ’s person and work, the potential for a unifying truth in the gospel has become a reality. Paul takes the widest sociological gaps he can think of (race, class, and sex) and claims that the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends those natural barriers. Notice something important about Paul’s claim. It is a unity built on the truth of the gospel, not a unity for unity’s own sake. The latter would be something that has no foundation and is inherently unstable. Contrary to the CWAGA folks (“Can’t We All Get Along?”), the prophets say, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Truth unifies. It does not divide. Modern Christianity needs to be reminded of this simple fact. Perhaps more unity could actually be achieved if these things could be remembered. Then we would pray for God to do it, to change our hearts towards the truth and towards those with whom we disagree. We need to pray for a unity based on truth.

When Did Saul Meet David?

It is a commonplace in liberal biblical scholarship to claim a contradiction between 1 Samuel 16:14-23 and 1 Samuel 17:55-58. The nature of the alleged contradiction lies in what Saul knew and when. In 16:19, Saul sends a messenger to Jesse, after he has been told about Jesse’s son by the young man of verse 18. The messenger tells Jesse to send David (“your son”) to Saul for purposes of musical distraction. In chapter 16, therefore, Saul knows whose son David is. In the very next chapter, however, Saul seems not to know this information. In 17:55 and following, Saul asks Abner about David’s parentage (Abner doesn’t know). Saul then finds out from David himself that David is the son of Jesse. So, which is it? Did Saul not find out in 16 about David’s father? Or are there other possibilities?

The first thing that must be said is that the author (or, to go momentarily on the liberal turf, the redactor) most likely already knew about this issue. Ancient authors weren’t quite as stupid as some modern scholars tend to think they were! How do we know? In the text of verse 23 lies what I believe to be the hint that points to the solution. The first two words of the verse are well translated, “Now, whenever…” The verse then describes a state of affairs that appears to have lasted a relatively long while before the events of 17. This points to the answer: Saul simply forgot whose son David was. The length of time combined with the stress of the events of 17 could easily explain Saul’s forgetfulness on this point.

To my mind, this explanation works better than some of the alternatives. Some believe that chapter 16 is about David’s identity, whereas 17:55ff. is about Jesse’s. This explanation does not take 16:18-19 adequately into account, where twice it is stated that Saul knew Jesse to be the father of David.

Another unlikely interpretation is that 16:14-23 is out of chronological order, and belongs in between 18:9 and 18:10. This would make the Goliath story the very first time Saul met David. Now, this would solve the issue. The Bible does not always record things in chronological order. What makes this solution unlikely is not the supposedly “unbiblical” nature of the solution, but rather the unlikelihood of the passage getting put intentionally out of place. If 16:14-23 was originally between 18:9 and 18:10, why would anyone move it?

Gleason Archer, in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (175), argues that Saul’s concern in 17:55ff. was in building up his own personal bodyguard, and that Jesse’s identity was important because Saul viewed David as a “lead to obtaining more soldiers like him.” This is possible, and would be an additional element consistent with the idea of forgetfulness.

Robert Bergen adds two more aspectual possibilities in his commentary on Samuel (199). The issue of who gets the tax forgiveness could be another reason why Saul asks about David’s parentage. In addition, Bergen argues that the Spirit having left Saul means that Saul “was intellectually incompetent.” I might amend the latter to say that Saul was becoming incompetent, memory being not what it once was.

One last solution, possibly the least likely, is that of Robert Polzin. In his Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, Part Two: 1 Samuel (171-6), he argues that Saul’s question is 17:55 is actually a demand for David’s allegiance, not a question about identity. Again, this would solve the issue. However, it is difficult to see why we should interpret the text that way. Are there other instances in ancient literature where asking about the identity of a person’s father is equal to a demand for allegiance? This seems highly unlikely to me. The other solutions are better.

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