Responses to John MacArthur's "Social Injustice and the Gospel"

"I appreciated the words of Nate Pickowicz, calling for graciousness. My hope had been the same as Tim Challies', that after well over 50 years of faithful ministry—and nearly 50 of it at the same church—an older man who has been right about so many other issues over the decades would at least have 'the credibility [to] gain a hearing.'" - Pyro

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Joel Shaffer's picture

Having seen tweets from both James White and Anthony Bradley, I see both using speech that is inflammatory towards each other.  James White labeling those who take issue with MacArthur's view  as "Social Justice Warriors" is just as much as Bradley's prejorative use of the word Fundamentalism or neo-Fundamentalism to describe MacArthur and company.    

Bert Perry's picture our vicious fights as we talk past one another, I guess.  Sigh.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

I've deliberately avoided the criticisms and back-and-forths to protect my own heart from anger (not having any social media accounts helps me avoid it). I am curious to read the forthcoming articles by Dr. MacArthur. I'm sure that I'll agree with some of his points and disagree with others.

My main concern with those who are firmly in the "social justice" camp is that they have aligned themselves with an openly rebellious worldview. I too believe that the gospel has ethical implications that can be filed under the category of social justice. However, the wider population that uses that term worships intersectionality, and their theology, if they have a theology, is rooted in black liberation theology. The broader movement is steered by post-modern neo-Marxism, there's no way around that fact.

Another concern is how many (in both camps) use specific political policies as a litmus test for mature if not true faith. There are men and women in my church whose job is to create and shape legislation. Even when I disagree with them politically, I don't doubt their motives. I understand that they have the motive to steer our country in a direction that promotes justice and economic opportunities for all. Those brothers and sisters in Christ are being castigated by the "social justice crowd," for lack of a better term.

I have friends who have been deeply wounded by some of the "big names" in the "social justice crowd." Friends who use their position and wealth to serve others, but who made the mistake of disagreeing with certain political issues and with expressing concern about cooperating with the broader movement.

Earlier this summer, I hosted a conversation about race at my house. I did so at the request of several millennials in our congregation who are concerned about what the church (specifically our church) is doing about racial inequality. That evening was one of the most mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting evenings that I've had as a Christian.

This issue of "social justice" is threatening to tear churches and American evangelicalism apart. It's heartbreaking to see once friends who are still brothers and sisters in Christ wound each other.

For what it's worth, this summer I've been reading some of the primary texts of intersectionality and black liberation theology with the goal of writing a long-form article about it. The more I study, the more I hear, and the more I observe, the more that I want to move my family to the middle of nowhere. But that would be sinful cowardice.

This is a battle, that shouldn't be a battle among Christ followers, for which we're all going to need much grace, humility, and wisdom to continue to love and serve each other and remember who the true Enemy is.

Steve Davis's picture

Carson wrote this over 20 years ago. Still true today (IMO):

“Pundits have often noted that many in the Western world have become single-issue people. The church is not immune from such influences. The result is that many Christians assume the gospel (often, regrettably, some form of the ‘simple gospel’) but are passionate about something on the relative periphery: abortion, poverty, forms of worship, cultural decay, ecology, overpopulation, pornography, family breakdown, and much more. By labelling these complex subjects ‘relatively peripheral’ I open myself to attack from as many quarters as there are subjects on the list. For example, some of those whose every thought is shaded green will not be convinced that the ecological problems we face are peripheral to human survival. But I remain quite unrepentant. From a biblical-theological perspective, these challenges, as serious as they are, are reflections of the still deeper problem—our odious alienation from God. If we tackle these problems without tackling what is central, we are merely playing around with symptoms. This is no excuse for Christians not to get involved in these and many other issues. But it is to insist that where we get involved in such issues, many of which are explicitly laid upon us in scripture, we do so from the centre out, ie beginning with full-orbed gospel proclamation and witness and passion, and then, while acknowledging that no one can do everything, doing our ‘significant something’ to address the wretched entailments of sin in our world. The good news of Jesus Christ will never allow us to be smug and other-worldly in the face of suffering and evil. But what does it profit us to save the world from smog and damn our own souls? There are lots of ways of getting rid of pornography. For instance, one does not find much smut in Saudi Arabia. But one doesn’t find much of the gospel there, either.”

D.A. Carson on “The Biblical Gospel” (in For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future, 83):

Bert Perry's picture

I'll start; one specific that is very harmful, spiritually and politically and societally, is "disparate impact" being used as a proxy for racism.  That is, in a nutshell, the notion that if any group is disproportionately affected by something, that is evidence of bias against that group.  The Obama DOJ/DoEd enacted many "agreements" with local police forces and schools to reduce the prevalance of african-americans being arrested, and where I live, the teachers are noting very clearly that kids have learned that they have to do something big to get in trouble--making it more difficult for all to learn.

Why it's bad; we are to be punished for our own sins, not exonerated because our group commits them more often.  It also sets us at each others' throats by empowering us to choose our own groups that we can hide behind to avoid accountability.  

Who wants next?  I'm thinking, I presume with many here, that we can pursue social justice without granting authority to all kinds of bad ideas.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

John E, I agree with much of what you said, however, I am not convinced that black conservative evangelical's theological underpinnings are rooted in black liberation theology.   At least Dr. Anthony Bradley (who is at the tip of the spear with this whole disagreement) isn't.  His book, "Liberating Black Theology" is the watershied book that completely dismantles James Cones' Victimization theology. 

John E.'s picture

I have yet to accuse any one individual or any theologically conservative group of having either intersectionality or black liberation theology at their root. I have said that the broader social justice movement has those things at their root. That's what makes it dangerous to align ourselves with them. 

(edit: after reading this comment, I realize it may come across as sharper than I intended. Joel didn't accuse me of saying anything that I didn't say. I'm simply pointing out that I've tried to be careful not to condemn brothers and sisters in Christ or accuse them unjustly. By God's grace, I'll continue to do so.) 

Bert Perry's picture

Again, let's be specific here.  Perhaps the phrase works for seminarians, but for the rest of us, and probably including a lot of seminarians, we might need to hear what we'd glean from a quick definition of the term; black liberation theology fails because (a) it tends to downplay the significance of who God is and how He defines Himself and (b) it portrays not only history (Marx's thesis), but also sociology and even ethics as an outgrowth of class and racial struggle.  Notice the overlap with theories of disparate impact there, and you're going to have the same trouble--class struggle is never satisfied with what would truly be "fair and right" in light of true Biblical morality.  It demands more--it sets us at odds.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.