Seven Questions With Phil Johnson

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Jim Welch's picture

Thanks for the interview.  Shepherd's Conference 2019 should be interesting to say the least.

From what I have read from Phil Johnson and John MacArthur (and I have listened to John's first 2 sermons on Social Justice) I have made this observation.  Phil and John agree that we live in a sin cursed and sin influenced world that has produced many injustices, wrongs, ets; but the Gospel has an objective content defined by the Word of God.  They seem, in my mind, to be clearly defended and proclaiming the Gospel; and see any attempt t add to the Gospel as a dangerous trend that detracts from the Gospel.  Thankful for their clarity.

Joel Shaffer's picture

The problem in MacArthur and Johnson's defense of the gospel from the so-called social justice warriors, is that they have created a straw-man caricature of the conservative evangelicals that are advocating for social justice.  You'd think that the hermeneutical principle of authorial intent, which MacArthur and Johnson practice faithfully in interpreting the scriptures, would also be practiced by them in other people's writings.   Instead, there is much more of a speculation intent and guilt-by-association language connecting the pro-social justice TGCers  to secular sociological ideology such as critical race theory, cultural Marxism, intersectionality, and of course attempting to connect the dots between the current emphasis on Social Justice and the Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch.    Mika Edmonson, a black Presbyterian pastor and scholar from Grand Rapids put it quite eloquently, "When people attribute my theological positions on justice to Karl Marx and Walter Rauschenbusch,I immediately realize they have no idea what’s gone on in the Black Church for the past 350 years."  For the sake of truth and for the sake of the gospel and the sake of unity, we cannot afford to practice speculation intent based on surface-readings of these writings from conservative evangelicals who embrace social justice because the category that we prefer to interpret social justice is through the lens of progressive/liberal/socialistic politics and liberal theology so that we can pull back from current social justice issues.    

TylerR's picture

Joel wrote:

The problem in MacArthur and Johnson's defense of the gospel from the so-called social justice warriors, is that they have created a straw-man caricature of the conservative evangelicals that are advocating for social justice. 

I think there's a lot of "straw-mannery" going on from both sides. 

Mika Edmonson, a black Presbyterian pastor and scholar from Grand Rapids put it quite eloquently, "When people attribute my theological positions on justice to Karl Marx and Walter Rauschenbusch,I immediately realize they have no idea what’s gone on in the Black Church for the past 350 years." 

This is interesting; what basis is there for a "black church?" That's always seemed quite racist to me. But, we all know they exist. The context that brought forth many "black denominations" is no more, so why do they still exist? Nobody refers to "white churches," do they? How foolish. There are black people, white people, Asian people and all sorts of people in my church ... and that's the Lord's doing. When I see a quote like that, I see that we're on two different planets. I live in the real world, I work in the real world for a state government, and I'm a pastor in the real world. This racial identity madness (e.g. "black church") is ridiculous. I wrote about this identity crisis a bit, here

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Joel Shaffer's picture

This is interesting; what basis is there for a "black church?" That's always seemed quite racist to me. But, we all know they exist. The context that brought forth many "black denominations" is no more, so why do they still exist? Nobody refers to "white churches," do they? How foolish. There are black people, white people, Asian people and all sorts of people in my church ... and that's the Lord's doing. When I see a quote like that, I see that we're on two different planets. I live in the real world, I work in the real world for a state government, and I'm a pastor in the real world. This racial identity madness (e.g. "black church") is ridiculous. I wrote about this identity crisis a bit, here. 

Let me ask you a question:  So when Thabiti Anyabwile writes a book about the Decline of African-American Theology over the span of 350 years, is that considered critical race theory as well?  Should he not have written it because it separates the black church from the white church so that he can make a critical evaluation?   The fact of the matter is that the most segregated hour in America has always been the 11:00 Sunday Service although there is now a small rise in multi-ethnic churches.  All Mika was saying was that his theological understanding of social justice is rooted in the black church's 350 year history (which was very robust in both evangelism and social justice until the 20th century with the wave of Pentecostalism (Azuza St) early 20th century and the influence of liberal theology in the mid 20th century)  There is no racial identity madness in his comment, only you interpreting through your lens by projecting racial identity theory onto his words.   Sadly, many white Christians haven't taken the time to actually study the issues that were important within black churches.   

 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Tyler if you drop all the racial identity language in your descriptions and actually assume the best about Mika and others you may gain some understanding of what they are trying to say.  

TylerR's picture

I have no idea what you're talking about. None. It's like we're speaking a different language. 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Joel Shaffer's picture

I have no idea what you're talking about. None. It's like we're speaking a different language. 

Why would Mika's comment somehow lead you to the conclusion that he is bringing up racial identity madness/politics or critical race theory?  All he was insinuating was that certain White Christians really don't know the history and the theology of black churches over the past 350 years which leads the SJS crowd to falsely connect him to the social gospel and Karl Marx!  How much history and theology have you read when it comes to issues within black churches?  Or can I even talk about black churches because according to your article, it seems as if we can only talk use colorblind language that stress our unity in Christ?  Of course our primary identity is in Christ and just about every TGC social justice Christian would agree with you.  But to shy away from using "black" Christian or "white Christian" and seemingly attribute it as sinful thinking goes beyond the Biblical narrative.  Remember that there are times within the Bible that the authors go out of their way to mention their different ethnicity or even skin color and it did nothing to diminish their primary identity in Christ in the NT or their identity as God's chosen people in the OT.   For instance, in Acts 13:1-4, Luke identifies one of the Prophets and Teachers as Simon called Niger (which meant black).  Its most likely that Simon called Niger was a dark-skinned transplanted Gentile from Africa and Luke didn't shy away from mentioning his skin color.   Or if we want to go back to the Exodus narrative in Exodus 6:25, one of Aaron's grandsons was named Phinehas, which the Theological Worldbook of the OT has translated to mean, "the bronze colored one."   

TylerR's picture

You are imbalanced here. You're trying to make something out of nothing. I beg you to see how out of context your Biblical references are.

Antioch was the first planted church outside Jerusalem, and it was the first to reflect the multi-national (i.e. Jew + Gentile) make-up that Scripture says will characterize God's family (e.g. Rev 5:9). To that end, Acts 13:1-4 is emphasizing the non-Jewish makeup of the congregation (e.g. Judea, Samaria, uttermost parts of the earth) by highlighting where a few of the people are from. We have a guy from Cypress, one from Cyrene, one from North Africa and and other who grew up in wealth and privilege with one of Herod the Great's sons. The point is that this isn't an all-Jewish affair anymore, and Antioch is proof. 

You're trying to draw legitimacy for "black Christianity" (and, I suppose, by extension, Antiochean Christianity, White Christianity, North African Christianity, Asian Christianity, etc.) as a conceptual self-identity category by quoting Acts 13:1-4. Do you suppose this was Luke's point? Do you really think this fits the flow and context of the book? You're trying to balance a skyscraper on a spiderweb, the same as you did with Acts 7.

You have yet to explain what on earth these proponents are saying, and what they want. You just tell me to read books. You offer bizarre prooftexts that, on the face of it, have nothing to do with the points you try to make. Moreover, your points are divorced from any historical teaching before the 20th century; always a warning sign. Even more telling, the entire movement could not exist outside the particular American context it was borne in. 

Joel, this movement is bad. I think you're trying to find Biblical support for a narrative that doesn't exist in Scripture.

I've made no comments about critical race theory or alleged Marxist connections; I've been very careful about that. I only linked to an article where I asserted that Christian self-identity must only be found in Christ. That must be our overriding self-identity; it's what the Scripture appeals to again and again as the source of our unity (e.g. Eph 4). Not race. Not sexual orientation. Not a particular sin that besets you. Union with Christ. 

I just don't understand what you're saying. I beg you to define what you are saying, then provide one didactic passage where what you're saying is modeled in Scripture. Show me, from the context, where I find what you're saying (which you haven't defined) in Scripture. I wrote an article where I provided brief expositions of two passages which support that a conceptual, Christian self-identity is only found in union with Christ. Please define what you are saying, and point me to a passage that supports it.

No snark intended. I really want to see it. Show me the way.   

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Joel Shaffer's picture

You are imbalanced here. You're trying to make something out of nothing. I wonder if you even see how desperate your Biblical references are? Antioch was the first planted church outside Jerusalem, and it was the first to reflect the multi-national (i.e. Jew + Gentile) make-up that Scripture says will characterize God's family (e.g. Rev 5:9). To that end, Acts 13:1-4 is emphasizing the non-Jewish makeup of the congregation (e.g. Judea, Samaria, uttermost parts of the earth) by highlighting where a few of the people are from. We have a guy from Cypress, one from Cyrene, one from North Africa and and other who grew up in wealth and privilege with one of Herod the Great's sons. The point is that this isn't an all-Jewish affair anymore, and Antioich is proof. 

You're desperately trying to draw legitimacy for "black Christianity" (and, I suppose, by extension, Antiochean Christianity, White Christianity, North African Christianity, Asian Christianity, etc.) as a conceptual self-identity category by quoting Acts 13:1-4? Do you suppose this was Luke's point? Do you really think this fits the flow and context of the book? You're trying to balance a skyscraper on a spiderweb, the same as you did with Acts 7.

You have yet to explain what on earth these proponents are saying, and what they want. You just tell me to read books. You offer bizarre prooftexts that, on the face of it, have nothing to do with the points you try to make. Moreover, your points are divorced from any historical teaching before the 20th century; always a warning sign. Even more telling, the entire movement could not exist outside the particular American context it was borne in. 

Joel, this movement is bad.

Wow!  I must have done just about the worst job of explaining my position to you if you think that I am building a theology off of one verse in order to create a self-identifying category. Addressing a subject like this requires much more depth and detail than a couple paragraphs which I wrote late last night.    I am not trying to build a case from 1 verse, nor am I even attempting to create a self-identifying category or legitimizing "black Christianity" from that verse by using black or African-American as an adjective in front of Christians. All I was doing was describing people,  just like Mika was describing his black church background and its long history of a theology of social reform or justice that has been part of black churches from the beginning and just as Luke added the detail that Simon's was called Black, even though that was far from being the main point of the narrative.  Its mainly from acute observation that groups of churches separate either by geography, culture, politics, ethnicity or language will emphasize different areas within their doctrine and practice.  My push-back was whether I am able to even make an observation about their theological and cultural development if I have to use colorblind and culturally neutral language according to how you apply what it means for different ethnic groups to be in Christ?   In the same way, would  I even be able to make the observation from Church history about  the Eastern and Western church during the post-apostolic and early middle-ages because the differences of language, culture, and geography over time contributed to the great schism.  Contributing to the split was that the Eastern church was influenced more by Greek Philosophy while the Western Church was more influenced by Roman Law (There are other differences as well)         Getting back to the subject, because the church in America has been divided by race in America throughout its nation's history, shouldn't we be able to make observations about black churches that are different than white churches without being labeled racist since they developed in a different cultural context?       

As I have mentioned before, our overwhelming primary identity is in Christ is Jesus and that identity in Christ supremely trumps all ethnic and cultural identities/groups that people have socialized themselves in.  "For there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  Not only do I believe this but so do just about every TGC Social Justice Advocate.  MLK50 speakers such as Eric Mason and Mika Edmonson have been very clear in both their messages and writings.  Same for Thabiti.      

As to the context of Acts, one of the main themes of the book of Acts was how the gospel includes the Gentiles  which created a multi-ethnic-multi-national church.   As the Gospel flowed from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the uttermost parts of the earth and penetrated different ethnic groups, there arose several cultural issues and conflicts that the early church had to work through.  The Acts 6 narrative explains an ethnic conflict where the Grecian Jewish Christians murmured and complained that their widows were being overlooked by the "native"Jewish Christians.  I find it interesting that the Apostles didn't handle the situation by being defensive (Calvin and Matthew Henry even question if the Grecean Jews had a legit complaint or if their murmuring was appropriate) or to tell them to stop acting like a victim nor was their response to say "neither is there any Greek or Jew in Christ."  Rather their response was identifying Godly men of faith and led by the Spirit to oversee the distribution of food to the Hellenist widows.  Character was by far the most important element with these Godly men.  However, the seven men all have Greek names, indicating that they were probably Hellenists themselves; the people (and the apostles) showed great sensitivity to the offended Hellenists by appointing Hellenists to take care of the widows' distribution.  The narrative of Acts 8 shows fulfillment to Isaiah 56 where as a foreigner and his physical deformity of castration which had previously kept him from approaching God, but now because of Christ, is welcomed into God's family.    Acts 10 explains the process that the Apostle Peter had to work through including many cultural barriers related to Jewish Dietary laws but led to the conclusion that "God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life’.”  But even Peter struggled to be consistent in his living out the unity in Christ between Jew and Gentile.  Fearing the backlash from Jewish Believers from Jerusalem, he  separated himself from his non-Jewish brothers and sisters in Antioch and Peter stood self-condemned because he violated the very things that began the Gentile mission: his vision of the sheet and the proclamation of the good news to Cornelius. Paul opposed Peter in Antioch for his hypocrisy in withdrawing from the table and his non-Jewish brethren by stating that Peter's conduct did not conform to the truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:11-14)   And then also we come to Acts 11.  The Antioch Church developed through spontaneous evangelism that crossed ethnic lines, careful followup of these new believers through Barnabas, deep Bible teaching by Paul, and compassionate giving to meet the needs of their fellow-believers in Jerusalem.  In Chapter 13, I fully affirm what you said, that "Antioch was the first planted church outside Jerusalem, and it was the first to reflect the multi-national (i.e. Jew + Gentile) make-up that Scripture says will characterize God's family (e.g. Rev 5:9). To that end, Acts 13:1-4 is emphasizing the non-Jewish makeup of the congregation (e.g. Judea, Samaria, uttermost parts of the earth) by highlighting where a few of the people are from. We have a guy from Cypress, one from Cyrene, one from North Africa and and other who grew up in wealth and privilege with one of Herod the Great's sons. The point is that this isn't an all-Jewish affair anymore, and Antioich is proof."   Anyway, that is the flow and context of Acts that I am working from.  

Hopefully what I have just written explains what I meant much more clearly and hopefully I am not reading into your views in a way that would misrepresent your beliefs. 

Greg Long's picture

Tyler, simply using the phrase "the black church" does not imply an endorsement of any kind of racial identity politics ("racial identity madness" as you put it), it is simply a recognition of the reality that there are many churches that are predominately black, which share many characteristics and perspectives that can legitimately be referred to as "the black church."

Keep in mind the historical reason there is "the black church" in America is because they were not welcome to worship at predominately white churches. Of course today there may be reasons why predominately black churches want to stay that way and want to "fly the flag" of being such, but again simply referring to "the black church" does not necessarily imply an endorsement of racial identity politics or racial identity Christianity.

To me it appears that you are not putting in a lot of effort to understand what Joel is saying and are simply dismissing it out of hand.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

My apologies. I just literally don't understand what anybody who advocates for this (across any spectrum) is saying. It's like I'm listening to someone speak Russian. I'm genuinely confused and more than a bit skeptical.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rob Fall's picture

When I speak of Slavic Baptist churches, I am using a divisional term I learned from a Russian EC-B historian. He divided Baptists into three basic families, Slavic, German, and Anglo-American. In speaking of Black Churches, I (at least) am being no more racist. I am simply recognizing a sub-grouping of the Anglo-American family.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

CAWatson's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

 So when Thabiti Anyabwile writes a book about the Decline of African-American Theology over the span of 350 years, is that considered critical race theory as well?

"My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice."

-Thabiti Anyabwile

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/await-repenta...

Maybe some were. Certainly not all were. 

If you were to ask Thabiti if "systemic racism" exists, he most certainly would say "yes." Read through a number of his writings over at TGC. 

Then consider this definition on Critical Race Theory from UCLA (In fact, you would do well to read the entire article):
"CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. "
https://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory/

Does he believe in intersectionality? Read his apology to Beth Moore and note how he carefully uses the language of oppression and the oppressor. 

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/apology-beth-...

 

Now, I'm not saying that he holds to CRT as a whole - but his language throughout the body of his online writings certainly reflects CRT ideas and demonstrates similarities to CRT. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

CA Watson,  At the risk of being misunderstood again, I’d like to offer a pushback to you attempting to connect the dots between Thabiti and critical race theory, intersectionality, and all the other sociological gobidly-gook.   As one who also believes in the concept of white privilege (although I describe it differently), which I have commented numerous time about on SI such as here  https://sharperiron.org/comment/95060#comment-95060  and also believing that institutional racism is real, I can attest that critical race theory was the farthest thing from my mind. In fact, I’d never heard of all these terms until a few years ago when I watched a some Jordan Peterson videos and realized that many conservative Christians were interpreting what was going on in the world through the eyes of this sharp, pithy, agnostic cultural conservative’s analysis.  

 However, for me it was embracing a more Reformed worldview in my theology that led me down this road.  Cornellius Plantinga’s “Not the Way its Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin” helped me understand the reality of institutional sin (which is rooted in the individual heart and the context of original sin/depravity).  Plantinga comes from a long line of conservative Reformed theologians going back to Kuyper who have addressed the issue of how God’s people interact with the culture around them through a Creation-Fall-Redemption meta-narrative.  While Plantinga’s line of thinking would place him more in the Kuyperian Neo-Calvinist strain of thinking, many two-kingdom Calvinists also acknowledge the reality of institutional (structural) sin as well.  Dr. Michael Horton implies that Fundamentalists who only acknowledge individual sin and behavior while neglecting structural sin are reductionists in their theology of sin. He also accuses liberals of their own reductionism by failing to acknowledging individual sin/behavior. (The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way).  

Likewise, Thabiti has also acknowledged several times that his Reformed theology led him to his current view on Social Justice, including race.  Maybe we should take his word on that rather than jump to such pre-mature conclusions (hasty generalization fallacy)?   That doesn’t mean refusing to critique Thabiti or Dr. Bradley or whomever’s position doesn’t square with truth.  Thabiti's view of corporate repentance is theologically problematic and he should be called out on it (although I still cringe when MacArthur, Johnson and others use his original article to argue against (strawman fallacy) rather than his clarified article (which still has some problems).   However the labeling of others using these secular sociological terms is virtually impossible to prove unless one resorts to guilt-by-association, straw-man misrepresentations, and hasty generalizations, which the MacArthur/Johnson echo chamber has shown on numerous occasions.