Langberg and Grasso

Diane Langberg is a member of Calvary PCA in Willow Grove, PA, a member of a Reformed denomination that does not permit the ordination of women. She is also a psychologist and an author of numerous books on abuse. In the SB’s special issue, Langberg is the first author recommended in “Resources Related to Sexual Abuse. “I… find her to be excellent,” writes Rev. Guichelaar, adding, “She specializes in trauma but she also has books on sexual and clergy abuse, which are obviously intimately related to the subject of trauma. If you want to help a friend or loved one, I would recommend her” (SB, vol. 98, No. 15 [May 1, 2022 ], 354).

In the April 15, 2021 issue of the SB, you write an editorial about how critical theory affects churchmembers’ view of ecclesiastical authority, a worthy topic. But I am more interested in how church members are “legitimately confused and hurting” because of an abuse of power, something you promise to address next. In your editorial you include a footnote of what I assume are recommended sources. Among those is an article by Rev. Michael Grasso, an OPC pastor who is sharply critical of Langberg, albeit you add the caveat that you are “aware of criticisms of Grasso’s work.” Since Grasso’s article has been shared throughout the PRCA, I want to respond to your indirect recommendation of Grasso’s article, for Grasso puts Langberg into the Critical-Theory-Intersectionality- Feminist camp.

Your footnote mentions only part 1 of Grasso’s article, but his real criticism of Langberg appears in parts 2-3. In a nutshell, Grasso fails to demonstrate that Langberg’s legitimate criticism of church authority abused by certain leaders is the same thing as a rejection of and rebellion against all authority. If Langberg condemns some leaders as wolves, which Jesus Himself did, she is not calling all leaders such. Instead, Langberg emphasizes the necessity of humble servanthood in Christian leadership, something that Jesus Himself did and exemplified.

Grasso takes issue with a statement of Langberg: “The Son of man did not rule,” as if this were a denial of Christ’s lordship or kingship. Langberg herself explains, “although His disciples longed for Him to do so.” Jesus did not rule in the way that His disciples wanted, namely, in an earthly kingdom. Grasso also interprets Langberg as teaching intersectionality and postmodernism because very early in her career she chose to listen to a female survivor of sexual abuse rather than heed the advice of her male supervisors that abused women tell “hysterical stories” and “lies about good men.” Grasso’s conclusion is, “Her choice to believe was greatly influenced by the gender of those she interacted with” and when “the oppressed class receives automatic deference because of intersectional identity, this moves into the realm of Critical Theory.” So, Langberg’s choice to believe an oppressed woman—thank God that she did and continues to do so!—is proof that she is a postmodern critical theorist.

In short, Grasso offers no proof that Langberg intends to destroy all authority structures or that she despises male headship in the home, church, and world. The citations from her book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, do not prove his case. Rightly, Langberg is sharply critical of the abuse of power, but it is a stretch to conclude that she is a radical intersectional feminist and the SB should not even indirectly promote an article that suggests she is.

In Christ,

Rev. Martyn McGeown, pastor of Providence PRC

Response:

Dear brother, Two brief comments in response to your letter.

First, you are correct that I referenced an article by Michael Grasso in a footnote to my editorial on critical theory, but you are not correct in concluding that this was a “recommended source,” that this was an “indirect recommendation of Grasso’s article,” or that I was “indirectly promot[ing]” Grasso’s work to readers of the SB. In the footnote, I began by saying “I relied heavily on the following articles,” and then listed four other articles on critical theory that I found to be helpful, one of which was an article you had written. Then I wrote, “In the interests of full disclosure, I also gleaned a few bits of information from [Michael Grasso’s article]” and ended by indicating “I am aware of criticisms of Grasso’s work.” The fact that I wrote what I did about Grasso’s article should have indicated that I was not including it as a recommended resource like the other articles I had listed. The reason I included a reference to it at all was in the interests of intellectual honesty; I had read the article, gleaned a few tidbits of information about critical theory from it, and thought it necessary to acknowledge the source of that information. I would note also, as you do in your letter, that I referenced in the footnote just Part 1 of Grasso’s work, the section that speaks generally of critical theory, and did not reference Parts 2 and 3, which is where the controversy lies. All of this hopefully makes clear that my brief footnote reference to an uncontroversial part of Grasso’s work was not my recommending or promoting everything the man has written.

Second, it seems to me that the main point of your letter is not really to respond to my article but to respond to Grasso’s articles on Diane Langberg. Since my editorial was not a promotion of Grasso’s cause and was not in any way critical of Langberg, I have nothing to say in response.

Your brother in Christ,

Rev. Joshua Engelsma