Book Review, Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation

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Book Reviewed: Robert Chao Romero and Jeff M. Liou, Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2023). Associates Link

Reviewed By: John B. Hatch

Journal of Christian Teaching Practice, Volume 10 (January-December 2023)

Reviewer Affiliation: CCSN Senior Fellow / JCTP Book Review Editor

Total Pages: 208

ISBN-10: 1540965198

Ever since Critical Race Theory began to emerge as a bogeyman in popular political and religious imagination, I have wished for an in-depth, well-informed, fair-minded treatment of CRT from Christian scholars writing for a popular audience. If reconciliation is “God’s one-item agenda,” as Rev. Samuel Hines used to say,[1] then it is important for Christians to get our response to racial divisions and injustices right. Thus, I heartily welcomed the recent publication of Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation.

Authors Robert Chao Romero and Jeff Liou are ideally positioned to write such a book, having been shaped not only by their racial/cultural experiences as second-generation immigrants and scholars of color, but also by their evangelical faith and Christian ministry roles. In keeping with the book’s subtitle, their approach is constructive, and it prioritizes faithfulness over comprehensiveness. While it certainly won’t settle debate about CRT among Christians, Christianity and Critical Race Theory does set the table for a better conversation. It accomplishes this by reframing CRT within the holistic biblical metanarrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation (which the authors divide among themselves in individually authored chapters). Placing CRT in this frame helps us see where it mirrors some of the revelatory insight of Scripture, where it fails to reflect the light of revelation, and how it can serve as an essential part of working toward wholeness in the Church and society.

Regarding Creation, Chao Romero focuses on the idea that each people and culture is distinctively gifted by the Creator, and these gifts are welcomed into the new creation. In fact, the book begins and ends with the image presented in Revelation 21:26, where “the glory and honor of the nations” are brought into the New Jerusalem. Chao Romero introduces CRT’s concept of “community cultural wealth,” according to which cultures should not be defined by their relative deficits, but rather appreciated for their unique cultural capital: assets such as social/community networks, languages and dialects, family connections and heritages, resiliency in the face of adversity, and resources for resisting oppression—as well as distinctive traditions, foods, arts, and distinct lenses and perspectives on the world. From a biblical perspective, when we fail to value such cultural wealth or cling to the assumed superiority of our own culture, we dishonor the Creator. CRT can expose ways in which we have fallen into that trap.

In his chapter on the Fall, Liou unpacks the multi-layered and pervasive nature of sin. A central tenet of Critical Race Theory is that racism has been baked into society from the outset through laws, institutions, and cultural practices (e.g., redlining), so that unjust racial advantages/disadvantages have become “normal.” For the authors, this is an instance of what Scripture says about sin: it is woven in and through humanity and comprises our normal way of operating. Citing Christian thinkers from Tertullian, Augustine, and Aquinas to Barth, Niebuhr, and Rahner, as well as theologians of color and non-western cultures, Liou argues that the biblical understanding of sinfulness encompasses the community as well as the individual, systems as well as actions, and the legacy of the past as well as present intentions. The Church has long believed that Christian sanctification involves an ongoing process of confession, repentance, and repair, both collective and individual. Why should the sin of racism be any different?

This brings us to Redemption. Given Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, Chao Romero highlights how the Holy Spirit has moved the Church and its institutions to work out redemption from the sinfulness of racial exclusion/inequity in practice and structure. As a model, he invokes Acts 6:1-7. In this account from the early Church, the needs of an outsider group (Hellenized Jews, whose everyday language and culture were Greek) were being overlooked by the insider group (Hebraic Jews). When the former complained about this unequal treatment, the Hebraic apostles did not appeal to an ideal of “culture-blindness” or ask why the Hellenists were stirring up discontent and division; rather, they acknowledged the problem and empowered the Hellenists to appoint their own leaders to address the issue. (I note that this model fits the pattern of the Spirit’s work throughout the book of Acts, proactively bringing ethnic/cultural outsiders into the Church as full insiders rather than second-class citizens.[2])

Chao Romero suggests that the Holy Spirit is doing similar work today by bringing a huge influx of ethnically and culturally diverse people into the United States, including its churches, seminaries, nonprofits, and Christian colleges and universities. In fact, he refers to this phenomenon as a kind of “dress rehearsal” for the multicultural gathering in the New Jerusalem.[3] He discusses ways in which leaders of color are changing the face of seminary education by developing forms that optimally serve their populations, thus better serving the whole church. This, he says, supports CRT’s voice of color thesis—the idea that “we people of color are in the best position to understand our own racialized experiences in the United States and to craft solutions.”[4] On the other hand, reactionary colorblindness resists the idea of intentionally raising up voices of color within an organization. While such race-neutrality may be well-intentioned, in terms of biblical redemption it is a deficient response to the racialized legacy of our society and churches, since it tends to sustain the pre-established (Eurocentric) sense of “normal” and pressure people of other cultures and colors to check their cultural wealth at the door.

If putting a picture into a new frame can help us to see it in a better light, it may also enable us to notice gaps and flaws. The authors’ scriptural reframing does this for CRT. Specifically, they see it falling short in light of the biblical drama’s final act: Consummation. They worry that CRT lacks Martin Luther King Jr’s hopeful vision of Beloved Community grounded in the unfailing love of God.[5] If a deep-structure critique of pervasive human sin—in this case, racism—is not offset by the kind of prophetic hope found in Scripture, and especially in Black churches and other churches of color, people are left with a demoralizing “discourse of death.”[6] The biblical eschatology, in contrast, inspires Christ-followers to overcome the crushing powers of sin in human society through creative suffering, joyfully anticipating the ultimate triumph of God’s beloved community.

With the biblical metanarrative thus serving as a frame and measuring rod, Christianity and Critical Race Theory constitutes a much-needed springboard for “faithful and constructive conversation” about CRT. Because its authors are not only academics but also gospel ministers, the book applies ideas from CRT to the life of churches, para-church ministries, and Christian higher education. True to CRT’s emphasis on the truth-value of storytelling, Chao Romero and Liou draw heavily on their personal experiences to illustrate concepts. While this helps make their argument relatable, it may not go far enough to convince those who deem the existence of structural racism to be exaggerated or believe CRT to represent a worldview in competition/conflict with Christianity.

This brings us to the book’s shortcomings. As much as I appreciate the authors’ effort to reorient the CRT discussion, I find myself wanting a more comprehensive overview and rigorous assessment. Readers seeking a primer on CRT for Christians will be disappointed. The authors do not provide even a cursory map of the field to locate its major thinkers, ideas, and streams of thought in relation to one another. Nor do they offer in-depth engagement with philosophical, theological, or socioeconomic critiques of CRT. For example, they do not address the criticism that personal stories are inadequate to provide a true picture of racial patterns in society, nor clearly consider how human weakness and the effects of sin may distort perceptions about race in people of color as well as members of the white majority. Granted, we need to be alert to the dangers of color-blindness as a cover for de facto Eurocentrism, but at the same time how do we guard against the possibility of misidentifying structural racism as a relevant factor in a particular case? While stories are an important form of evidence, shouldn’t they be combined and counterbalanced with judicious statistical analysis designed to test conclusions about larger patterns and causes? It’s not clear that CRT proponents see these as valid concerns; and that seems to be the crux of thoughtful critiques by such public intellectuals as John McWhorter—a black, liberal scholar. Moreover, given the wide influence of Voddie Baucham’s Fault Lines in some quarters, I wish the authors had directly responded to his framing of CRT as a worldview that sets itself over against Christian faith. If Baucham’s argument is problematic (as I think it is), its strengths and weaknesses need to be specified rather than ignored.

In sum, Chao Romero and Liou have laid a good foundation for a more faithful and constructive conversation about CRT; and important work remains to be done by Christian scholars building on this kind of foundation. Christianity and Critical Race Theory is highly recommended for use in classes on race or culture, especially if the instructor assigns complementary readings reflecting current debates among scholars and public intellectuals concerning the extent of structural racism in policing, law, education, etc. CRT should be taken seriously by Christians, engaged in its complexity, mined for its merits, and judiciously critiqued—under the shadow of the cross, where all human persons and their works are found wanting yet redeemable in the One who reconciles all things.


[1] Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 54.

[2] See Aaron J. Kuecker, The Spirit and the ‘Other’: Social Identity, Ethnicity and Intergroup Reconciliation in Luke-Acts. (New York: T & T Clark, 2011).

[3] Robert Chao Romero and Jeff M. Liou, Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2023), 99.

[4] Chao Romero and Liou, Christianity and Critical Race Theory, 108.

[5] See Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (New York: Harper & Bros. 1958), 101-07.

[6] Chao Romero and Liou, Christianity and Critical Race Theory, 153-55.

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