Jack Crabtree was my undergraduate senior thesis advisor at my alma mater, Gutenberg College. Gutenberg College is a small, “Great Books” college in Eugene, Oregon. Embedded deeply in the classical Christian education movement, Gutenberg is staunchly evangelical and caters especially to evangelical, homeschooled students. And while Gutenberg has long promoted itself as unique and different from its larger evangelical culture, recent developments—such as Crabtree’s embrace of Q Anon, the college recently hosting anti-LGBTQIA speaker and election fraud proponent Nancy Pearcey, and an upcoming lecture that entertains the validity of the American Confederacy’s “Lost Cause” movement—threaten to disrupt that facade.
Crabtree was Gutenberg’s resident philosopher and the author of the college’s philosophy of “radical biblicism”—an approach to biblical exegesis that takes the Reformed idea of “Sola Scriptura” to a whole new level. The only teacher at Gutenberg who had a degree in philosophy, Crabtree resigned from Gutenberg in 2016 in order to focus on his primary love: the study of the Bible. Crabtree, along with his younger brother David Crabtree (the founding president of Gutenberg), created the Sound Interpretation Project in 2016 so they could focus on biblical studies.
While ostensibly about biblical studies, the Sound Interpretation Project has become a platform for the Crabtree brothers to discuss anything that strikes their fancy. For Jack, this has meant exploring his understanding of the current political situation in the United States in light of his radical biblicism.
In 2020, Crabtree released a multi-part audio series called “Dr. Jack’s Philosophy Shop.” In this series, Crabtree answers 18 questions posed to him from the Gutenberg College community. These questions concern a wide variety of issues, from straightforward questions about the Bible to questions about Crabtree’s support for Donald Trump’s presidency. The last question posed to Crabtree, Question #18, is about Q Anon.
Question #18, Crabtree says, is from a mother who is very concerned about her son’s attraction to Q Anon. “A grown son of mine…is deeply committed to Q Anon,” she writes, “so much so that it is taking over most of his thoughts and time while he is losing relationships with family and friends.” But Crabtree does not encourage the mother to discourage the son away from Q Anon. Instead, Crabtree uses the question to defend Q Anon and tells the mother that, “There’s a reason why he might be positively responding to it.” In fact, Crabtree goes so far as to say, “Q is innocent and not at all problematic.” He adds that, “There are some very thoughtful and intelligent and rational and balanced people who are taking a serious look at Q.”
With such a strong and detailed defense of Q Anon, one might think Crabtree has invested significant time researching and understanding Q Anon. But that assumption would be wrong. As Crabtree explains in his talk, “I don’t have any first hand knowledge of Q.” Crabtree’s only source for his claims is “friends and family who have given some attention to it and have explained to me what it’s all about.” But rest assured, he tells us, “none of them are a bunch of nuts.”
So what is Crabtree’s understanding of Q Anon? Crabtree believes that one needs to make a distinction between Q—the person or persons who anonymously reveal allegedly important information about the state of the United States—and Q Anon, the movement of people who interpret Q’s posts and may or may not interpret those posts accurately.
Q Anon, Crabtree says, can engage in thinking that is “pretty far out there, pretty creative, pretty imaginative, and very possibly pretty out of touch with facts and reality.” But Q is different, he implies. Rational and intelligent people can and will find much to appreciate about Q. Crabtree says he strongly identifies with what Q says: “I would love to see the good guys win for a change, and I would love for my culture to be turned back away from its headlong gallop into evil and insanity and destruction.”
While many people (including evangelicals) reject Q and Q Anon as “far-fetched” and a “conspiracy theory,” Crabtree urges people to reconsider this rejection. This is because, to Crabtree, the Gospel itself can be seen as a far-fetched conspiracy theory: “The Gospel itself is too far-fetched for most of the people in the world. Many people won’t even begin to consider the Gospel because it strikes them as completely fanciful.” If Christians are ok with believing the Gospel despite its strange and unbelievable aspects, he implies, then they should also take Q and Q Anon seriously. “Far-fetched is in the eye of the beholder and it’s just not a valid reason to reject anything,” he states.
In addition to Q and Q Anon, Crabtree also addresses two other controversial subjects in Question #18. One of these is the existence of transgender people. Crabtree finds the existence of transgender people to be “just nuts.” The claim that “a person who is genetically male may actually be female and vice-versa” is “patently false,” he declares. Crabtree finds the existence of, and the current cultural trend towards the acceptance of, transgender people to be a sign of another conspiracy. But this conspiracy might even have supernatural elements: “It seems likely to me that the power and force that it has in our culture has more to do with supernatural deception at work than human conspiracy.”
Another potentially supernatural conspiracy that Crabtree addresses is the perceived censoring of proponents of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19. That hydroxychloroquine has become controversial is also “just nuts” to Crabtree, who admits he has “taken hydroxychloroquine twice in my life.” He believes the censoring of people who promote hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 is so widespread, Satan must surely be involved: “It seems just as likely that there may be something more directly Satanic at work.”
This is not Crabtree’s first time embracing conspiracy theorists. In 2013, he wrote an article published by Gutenberg College—aptly titled “God Give Me Courage to Be a Nut”—where he mentioned his support of the John Birch Society and criticized those who decry “birthers” (a reference to conspiracy theorists who claim Barack Obama is not a United States citizen).
It’s disturbing to see someone whose life project was explaining how Christianity is the most rational belief system descend into conspiracy theories based on hearsay and lies. Unfortunately, with Gutenberg entertaining folks like Pearcey and topics like the “Lost Cause,” it seems like Gutenberg College is following in his footsteps.
To read a full transcript of Jack Crabtree’s talk on Q Anon and other conspiracy theories, please click here.