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  • Writer's pictureKrista Bontrager

Navigating the New Canon 2

Guest: Neil Shenvi; Book reviews on race and gender

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Segment 1: Interview with Neil Shenvi

Dr. Neil Shenvi has a PhD in Theoretical Chemistry, he's a husband, a father of 4, and a homeschool dad. Over the last 4 years, he has done extensive reading and research in the areas of social justice and the critical social theories.

Dr. Shenvi came on our show last year to discuss the popular social justice/anti-racist books. Check out that episode, Navigating the New Canon.

On tonight's show, Dr. Shenvi returned to give us his take on the more recently released and popular books. These are the 3 books we discussed:

  • How to Fight Racism by Jemar Tisby

  • Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

  • God of the Oppressed by James H. Cone

First of all, why is reading these first sources important for Christians?

It is important because we want to represent the authors accurately. #1) We don't want to create a "strawman." We want to observe "the golden rule of apologetics" and do unto others as you would have them do to you. So, in other words, it's an ethical mandate.

#2) Familiarizing yourself with the primary sources gives you "ammunition." For example, you can have word-for-word quotes available to share that support and defend your position.

How to Fight Racism by Jamar Tisby

What is the big idea of this book?

It's a "how-to" manual...we can pursue racial justice by following Tisby's ARC ModelAwareness, Relationships, and Commitment.

Who is Jamar Tisby (credentials, expertise, etc)?

Bachelor's from Notre Dame, MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary, PhD in History. Recently started working with Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Anti-Racist.

What is Tisby's faith stance?

He does profess to be a Christian. He has been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and he went to a Reformed Seminary. However, it's unknown if he considers himself an evangelical Christian at this point.

What did you find helpful about this book?

  1. Race is a social construct; he acknowledges the Imago Dei of human identity

  2. Acknowledges sin separates us from a Holy God; sinners in need of a Savior

  3. Recommends reading primary sources

  4. Recommends making friends and building relationships with people of a different race than you (to fight racism)

  5. Advocates for social justice reform (i.e. criminal justice/prison system)

  6. Not seeking to pit the personal bigotry against the systemic injustices

  7. Don't give in to feel superior over others who are not "woke"

What are some of the concerns/criticisms about this book?

  1. Overall, big concern is that his approach to race and justice is grounded in Critical Race Theory

  2. Lack of clarity in terms/definitions (for example, no definition given of racial justice)

  3. His ideas of equity vs equality and definitions of racism, etc...his perspectives are not consistent with a Biblical Christian worldview

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

What is the big idea of the book?

White evangelicals' commitment to militant patriarchy has corrupted their understanding of Christianity.

Who is Kristin Kobes Du Mez?

BA in History and German, PhD in American History from Notre Dame, Professor at Calvin College (Christian school in Michigan)

What is her faith stance?

Appears to be a professing Christian; belongs to a Reformed Denomination

What is helpful about the book?

People loved her book! There are many issues/legitimate problems that she addresses, for example, sexual abuse is a real problem (within the church). Other examples include Christian Nationalism where people claim to be Christian, but basically use the Bible as a "talisman."

What are some of the concerns/criticisms?

The major oneChristian scholars who take the tools of history/sociology/psychology/cultural studies to examine some cultural phenomenon and then leap to normative claims..."how we ought to behave" or "what we ought to believe"...this is a terrible way to do theology! We have to do theology starting with Scripture!

If she is making a theological claim about how evangelicals have corrupted Christianity, then she has to start by saying, "According to Scripture, here's what pure Christianity looks like", or "here are the verses", etc, but there is nothing like that mentioned! If you're going to make a theological claim of any kind, you must exegete the Scripture!

God of the Oppressed by James H. Cone

What is the big idea of the book?

Our theology about God, the Bible, and Jesus needs to be understood through the lens of the Black Liberation Movement/the Black freedom struggle.

Who is James H. Cone?

He pre-dates Critical Race Theory and the Critical Social Theories, but his voice lends itself to the Critical Legal Studies movement. He is one of the authors/voices of Black radical thought.

What is his faith stance?

Cone says he is Black first and everything else comes after that. This means, he reads the Bible through the lens of a Black tradition of struggle and not as the objective Word of God...along with other important testimonies, including the speeches of Malcolm X, MLK Jr, Toni Morrison, and jazz, blues, and rap artists, etc etc. In short, the Bible is ONE story of liberation, among other stories.

What is the historical context for Cone's development of his ideas?

His first book came out in 1969...he grew up in the rural south during Jim Crow. His early childhood and context was shaped by blatant, awful racism. It doesn't mean his perspective was/is right (in fact, his ideas are dangerous, heretical, and will kill the church!), but we can understand WHY he has this perspective.

What are some of the concerns/criticisms?

Cone's thoughts and analyses are drawing on Marxism. There is a connection between Cone's Black Liberation Theology and the Critical Social Theories.

What do you see as Cone's influence in the Evangelical Church? What is his legacy becoming?

People like Jamar Tisby are recommending that Christians read James Cone. People may not be familiar with who James Cone is, but his IDEAS are saturating our culture. His perspective potentially sets up ideas of a "Black Jesus" and a "White Jesus" and continues to perpetuate divisions among Christians.


Kristin Kobes Du Mez' book, Jesus and John Wayne, speaks to the concept of Christian Nationalism. Check out Krista's recent teaching series on this topic:

"One Nation Under God?"

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Connect with the guest


Segment #2: Announcements!

Check out Krista's recent livestream, part 3 of the Justice series:

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