I am not a Southern Baptist, but I am Baptistic, at least with reference to a doctrine of Baptism—grew up as a Conservative Baptist. So, I am somewhat outside of the current dust-up happening as a consequence of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. In this meeting they successfully pushed through Resolution 9, which has to do with the affirmation of so-called Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality; both hot-topic realities in the broader cultural moment. For the remainder of this post we will engage with Resolution 9, and offer some critical comment with reference to its appeal to ‘general revelation’ as the basis for justifying its affirmation of CRT and Intersectionality; even as the committee attempts to curtail and delimit CRT and Intersectionality by sub-ordinating it to the authority of Holy Scripture.
Here is Resolution 9 in full:
WHEREAS, Concerns have been raised by some evangelicals over the use of frameworks such as critical race theory and intersectionality; and
WHEREAS, Critical race theory is a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience; and
WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, resulting in ideologies and methods that contradict Scripture; and
WHEREAS, Evangelical scholars who affirm the authority and sufficiency of Scripture have employed selective insights from critical race theory and intersectionality to understand multifaceted social dynamics; and
WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message states, “[A]ll Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried” (Article I); and
WHEREAS, General revelation accounts for truthful insights found in human ideas that do not explicitly emerge from Scripture and reflects what some may term “common grace”; and
WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences; and
WHEREAS, Scripture contains categories and principles by which to deal with racism, poverty, sexism, injustice, and abuse that are not rooted in secular ideologies; and
WHEREAS, Humanity is primarily identified in Scripture as image bearers of God, even as biblical authors address various audiences according to characteristics such as male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free; and
WHEREAS, The New Covenant further unites image bearers by creating a new humanity that will one day inhabit the new creation, and that the people of this new humanity, though descended from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people, are all one through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:16; Revelation 21:1–4, 9–14); and
WHEREAS, Christian citizenship is not based on our differences but instead on our common salvation in Christ—the source of our truest and ultimate identity; and
WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention is committed to racial reconciliation built upon biblical presuppositions and is committed to seeking biblical justice through biblical means; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, June 11–12, 2019, affirm Scripture as the first, last, and sufficient authority with regard to how the Church seeks to redress social ills, and we reject any conduct, creeds, and religious opinions which contradict Scripture; and be it further
RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the gospel of Jesus Christ alone grants the power to change people and society because “he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6); and be it further
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists will carefully analyze how the information gleaned from these tools are employed to address social dynamics; and be it further
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptist churches and institutions repudiate the misuse of insights gained from critical race theory, intersectionality, and any unbiblical ideologies that can emerge from their use when absolutized as a worldview; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we deny any philosophy or theology that fundamentally defines individuals using categories identified as sinful in Scripture rather than the transcendent reality shared by every image bearer and divinely affirmed distinctions; and be it further
RESOLVED, That while we denounce the misuse of critical race theory and intersectionality, we do not deny that ethnic, gender, and cultural distinctions exist and are a gift from God that will give Him absolute glory when all humanity gathers around His throne in worship because of the redemption accomplished by our resurrected Lord; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptist churches seek to exhibit this eschatological promise in our churches in the present by focusing on unity in Christ amid image bearers and rightly celebrate our differences as determined by God in the new creation.
Identifying A Hermeneutical Problem
At first blush it reminds me of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (with its thousands of qualifications). Resolution 9 so qualifies its appropriation of CRT and Intersectionality (CRT/I) that you start to wonder why they feel compelled to even use it as the ‘analytical tool’ they say it is at all. This makes me think that they want to have official space to deploy CRT/I that they wouldn’t have outwith their resolution. In other words, it makes me think that the committee that drafted R9, and the ‘Messengers’ who ratified it through vote, see more value to CRT/I than they are letting on. It is actually really easy to assert that a group of Christians will always subordinate a creed, confession, catechism, or resolution to Scripture; but when it comes to the actual practice of this sub-ordinating, the waters become almost immediately murky.
On analogy I’ll refer us to the Westminster Confession of Faith. For many Reformed churches, particularly the Presbyterian churches, the WCF (and other confessions etc), de jure, are said to be subordinate to Scripture. But when we begin to engage with such Christians what we quickly come to realize is that they maintain that the most faithful and historic reading of Scripture they know of is deposited in and thus regulated by adherence to the WCF. In other words, it becomes almost impossible to critically disentangle Scripture’s teaching, simpliciter, from the WCF’s confessing insofar that the latter is understood to be univocal with the former; at least when we are in orbit with Christians who are confessionally bound by submission to the WCF.
Similarly, I believe proponents of R9 among the SBC have the same problem to overcome; it is a hermeneutical problem, indeed. Who is to say, under the conditions of R9, where the clear teaching of Scripture leaves off, and the analytical virtue of CRT/I pick up? Many of us have heard of what sociologist, Christian Smith, has called Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism (PIP); i.e. the phenomenon of pluriform and multitudinous interpretations of the same respective texts of Scripture. I think it would be safe to say that the SBC is not immune to this phenomenon, as such how will the practitioners of R9 recognize when their exegesis of Scripture is sub-ordinating CRT/I for its analytic value, and when CRT/I is in fact shaping said exegesis of Scripture? In other words, in my view, it seems that R9 opens a can-o-worms in the sense that there is some serious latitude for circular reasoning (petitio principii) to obtain. It seems as if R9 leaves the line between faithful exegesis of Scripture and deployment of CRT/I up to the subjectivities of the respective interpreters. This seems like a real dilemma that needs to be addressed in the resolution itself, but the resolution doesn’t address it. It is a hermeneutical dilemma, which leads me to my next observation/critique.
The Problem of General Revelation/Natural Theology
As an Evangelical Calvinist I repudiate, in principle, the idea of natural theology, or what some more benignly call ‘general revelation.’ It isn’t just Evangelical Calvinists who repudiate natural theology, indeed, there are other classically Reformed Christians who similarly reject Natural Theology; some in a more qualified sense. Yet, the R9’rs make natural theology the basis for their justification of appropriating CRT/I as an analytical tool. The appeal to the axiom ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ But this axiom is rather circular sense it premises that ‘all truth’ is discernable as true apart from establishing said truth as true in critical ways. In other words, axioms or anecdotes like this only work in a superficial way; when we begin to move into critical engagement towards identifying what is true, and what is not-true, we are always pushed up against a hermenutical/epistemological dilemma. In other words, how can we know what is true or not-true; what warrant do we have, for example, for asserting that CRT/I offers valuable analytical tools for critically ascertaining the human experience as that is understood, in particular, among the ‘minority’ and belittled segments of humanity? Does nature itself, bear within itself, the resource for explaining to us what ails the human condition? Or maybe more minimally, as I think the R9’rs would probably maintain: does CRT/I, grounded in nature as it is, present us with categories that help us ‘organize’ and index the problems facing minorities and the belittled better than Scriptural Revelation can? This seems to be the contention of the R9’rs; they seem to think that nature itself has the ratio of God inherent to it. As such, they further seem to think that CRT/I has discovered something latent within nature that can help supplement Scripture’s teaching on race, human sexuality, and other sundry things.
But what if nature isn’t accessible this way? What if the human condition is unable to discover things ‘from on high,’ and instead only are able to discover things from below that find their orientation from the ‘kingdom of darkness?’ How is an R9’r to know whether CRT/I offers analytically-rich contours for navigating through the choppy cultural waters of Race and other related issues? If proponents of R9, within the SBC, believe they are justified in affirming the purported analytical values present within CRT/I; then upon what basis are they claiming CRT/I actually has these values? You see the hermeneutical dilemma, right? You see the circular nature of their reasoning, correct? Their whole justification for affirming even a limited appropriation of CRT/I (although I’m not sure how limited that will be based upon the previous concerns I mentioned, in re: to PIP) is based upon an overly-simplistic axiom that ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ That axiom is fine as far as it goes at a superficial level, but when we press it more critically we come to recognize that identifying what in fact is “truth” is a much more complex venture; particularly as we consider the noetic effects of the ‘fall of humanity.’ Even if we wanted to affirm a theory of general revelation, a theory according to the R9’rs’ logic that maintains that unregenerate humans can discover God’s truth apart from regenerated reason/affections, how can we ever be sure that this ‘discovery’ is in alignment with God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ? Are we going to simply base the answer to that question on utilitarian, consequentialist, and pragmatic conclusions? That seems to be the depth of the R9’rs appeal to general revelation. They seem to be premising that CRT/I has yielded certain ideational consequences to the point that it has become utilitarianly useful as an organizational and analytical tool in regard to parsing out the issues of Race, Human Sexuality and other sundry issues.
I think the R9’rs have opened up a can-o-worms that requires much more responsible engagement. If I was a pastor (or professor) in the SBC I would be utterly confused in regard to how I was supposed to appropriate the ostensible riches of CRT/I that the R9 Committee seems to think is as self-evident as God’s truth is in nature. These are concerning things in my view, and ones that the SBC does not face alone. It is a hermeneutical/prolegomena issue that I think R9 proponents and the rest of the Christian world ought to recognize when attempting to engage with Scripture and culture in the translational effort we are all engaged in as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Are we going to walk by faith, or sight? If we walk by faith I’d venture to say that ‘the Kingdom of the Son of His love,’ that the Kingdom of Christ, apocalyptic as it is, has the capacity to break in on our puny machinations and “discoveries,” and contravene them with an antecedent and strange reality come from heaven above in Christ.
Personally, what I wonder is why the churches feel so compelled to find riches in Babylon, when we have already been set free to a Kingdom that has riches and depth of its own? I mean what is the motive for the SBC’s apparent need for appropriating CRT/I? It seems like revelation itself has other and powerful resources, even analytical ones, that can avoid being interlinked with ‘natural’ discoveries of “truth” as CRT/I purports to be. Sure, it might require greater and deeper theological work than simply appealing to ‘all truth is God’s truth’ offers the practitioner; but the power and love of the Gospel seem to invite the Christian to ‘toil’ (II Tim 2.15) in this sort of depth dimensional work. I don’t see this funding Resolution 9’s manifesto, and as such think it ought to be abandoned, or at least suspended until further and more theologically critical consideration can be given.
 See Richard Muller’s PRRD where he treats this issue in and among the early and high Reformed theologians who gave ‘natural theology’ a very denuded place insofar as they believed there was enough general revelation given by God to the level that all people would be left without excuse at God’s eschatological judgment. But as Muller points out, these same theologians did not see a positive role for general revelation wherein a natural theology could be posited to the level that it might supply a material complement to what is given in ‘special revelation.’ This seems to be the way the Resolutioners of R9 are appealing to ‘common grace,’ as if the light of reason has the capacity to complement the light of revelation (to use some of Katherine Sonderegger’s Aristotelian/Thomist framework).