Do you agree with MacArthur that " This recent of 'social justice' is [a] dangerous threat"?

John MacArthur is a key player, respected by conservative evangelicals and often fundamentalists, too. I greatly respect the man.

I appreciate his resistance to fads and consider them a sign of shallowness and superficiality. Rather than pilgrims and strangers, we are more like Lot, settling in Sodom.

Fads often burn out, or involve "tokenism." We say what we are supposed to say, participate in an event or two, and our responsibility in that matter has been fulfilled and we move on to the next fad, the previous fad soon forgotten.

The new fad, to jump on the "social justice" bandwagon, IMO, was propelled particularly by the Promise Keepers movement in 1996 (I was there), and, IMO, also ended the Promise Keepers movement, which was originally about men keeping their commitments to God.  Somehow, that theme was hijacked and "social justice" (which was about white men feeling guilty and indebted because other white men -- not necessarily even their own forefathers -- mistreated, enslaved, and then victimized blacks or native Americans) displaced it.

Society at large sort of bows the knee to the shrine of "social justice," because it is expected.  Not that this changes anything, but it is a ritual of our times.

Are churches likely to displace the Gospel with this "social justice" message?"  That, to me, is the heart of MacArthur's fear: displacement.

He also connects it to the social gospel taken up by the liberal mainlines after they defected from the faith.

One argument could be they defected first and then took up the social gospel in its place so they could have some kind of a message (make the world a better place sort of thing).  Another might be that they traded one for the other because they were enthralled with the social gospel.

So are we entering an "unknown" situation here or a repeat situation?

Supporters of social justice note that evangelicals, before the fundamentalist/modernist controversy, were always involved with both gospels. Thus, in their minds, the new emphasis on social justice is more or less a "system restore" to an earlier time.

What do you think?



MacArthur is right on. This emphasis on social justice must or likely will displace the Gospel of the grace of God.
65% (24 votes)
Right but overkill. The obsession with "social justice" will diminish the emphasis on the Gospel & discipleship.
14% (5 votes)
There is a chance MacArthur is right, but a roughly equal one that the "social justice" fad will either burn out or be an add on
5% (2 votes)
8% (3 votes)
By and large, MacArthur is exaggerating the danger of this focus on "social justice."
3% (1 vote)
MacArthur is simply wrong on this point. Period.
3% (1 vote)
3% (1 vote)
Total votes: 37
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There are 3 Comments

Joel Shaffer's picture

I would very much disagree with you about that Promise Keepers was somehow an event that started the whole movement towards Social Justice within evangelicalism.  Although Promise 6 had very much to do with keeping one's promise to God because it dealt with racial reconciliation, racial reconciliation and justice was around since the 1970's through the influence of John M. Perkins (who happens to be the black pastor friend that MacArthur alludes to when MacArthur is doing mission work in Mississippi in the 1960's).   I was also at Promise Keepers in Detroit around that time 1996 or 1997 and I felt that there was a hype that led to (white) guilt but there was no change afterwords.  My black pastor friends tell me that they all knew when it was Promise Keepers season because out of nowhere suddenly a bunch of white Christian acquaintances would try to be their friends (because they felt guilty) for about 2 months but then would disappear after the guilt resided. 

If you know Dr. Perkins's story, he didn't just preach the gospel in Mississippi, although he was a very effective gospel preacher and disciple-maker back then.   But Perkins did all of the same stuff that MLK did to work for justice in both Mendenhall Mississippi and Jackson Mississippi such as organizing boycotts and leading marches.  Actually he did even more.  He started a Health Centers, businesses, legal aid clinics,  Homeownership programs all of which pointed people to Jesus and he was able to evangelize and disciple people and simultaneously work for social justice.    But when he confronted the racist systems, he was tortured by a group of racist law enforcement where they bent the prongs of a fork up his nose where he bled a couple cups of blood out of his face and he was kicked and beat with clubs until he passed out.  Afterwords doctors had to remove 1/3 of his stomach.  Anyway, after being tortured he realized that the gospel that reconciled us to God in Christ needs to reconcile us across ethnic and social lines.  He began using the term racial reconciliation back in the early 1970's. Promise Keepers, who was influenced by Dr. Perkins, took the term and ran with it.   Perkins has also written and co-written about 10 or so books about (social) justice.  He started an organization called the Christian Community Development Association in 1989.  About 1000 or so churches, schools and urban/rural non-profits and about 8000 Christians that are involved in poverty ministry that span across the evangelical spectrum (including myself as well as the founder of Sharper Iron Jason Janz) are part of this organization. 

I am really interested in how MacArthur navigates the evangelical landmines of social justice, when his good friend Dr. Perkins who he compliments in his first article for being the main black pastor who preached the gospel (which he has always done) was the one who influenced Christians to do justice as part of their calling in the first place.   By the way, there are many evangelicals that I know who no longer preach a Biblical gospel but a social one, but they are mostly in the progressive evangelical camp (think of those who are associated with Sojourners).  But in my personal dealings with conservative evangelicals such as those who are connected with TGC, I know of none who have abandoned the Biblical gospel for a social one or for a Black Liberation Theology.  My fear with all of this is that we are aiming our guns at the wrong target or that we may end up misdiagnosing the problem (accuse people of the Social Gospel or Black Liberation Theology) when in fact it might be their over-realized view of the Kingdom that is influencing them.    I have no idea what MacArthur will say and who specifically will be the target his Polemical style of defending the gospel when it comes to talking about social justice, but I do hope that he is addresses it much better than the strawman arguments in the echo chamber of Pyromaniacs.   

By the way, I felt DeYoung and Gilbert was pretty spot on when it came to their two chapters on Social Justice in their book "What is the Mission of the Church?" 

Ed Vasicek's picture

This poll is about "social justice," which really isn't about justice, but equality.  There is a bit of socialistic undertones in the the phrase, IMO.   This is much broader than race relations.  But, in response to Joel's comments, I decided to share some of my thoughts regarding race issues.

Joel, to respond to your response to me, I think Promise Keepers started in one direction, after they had a captive audience with an advertised agenda, they pulled a bait and switch and took things in another.  If nothing else, this was sneaky and manipulative.

Of course when people are manipulated, their resolve is short lived. Just like PK, the reconciliation fad came and went.

Social Justice is not just about racial reconciliation, It involves a perspective on poverty that is debilitating. In the book, "Toxic Charity," the author demonstrates how much charity and "social justice" creates dependence rather than independence.  Certainly most of us would welcome ministries that teach a man to fish, but much of what is called "social justice" is about handing out fish instead. It is about FEELING like you are doing good, FEELING like you are making a difference.  And, more revealingly, it is feeling from a distance.

A person will not shop at Walmart because there are too many Blacks and Latinos there, but he will help pass out food at a migrant worker camp.  It is at the Wal-mart level that racial reconciliation begins.  Learning to feel comfortable with people of other races -- doctors, nurses, police officers, mail carriers, etc. is a great start.  Making friends with people of other races adds more. And thus it builds.

Only the willfully blind fails to see how African-Americans (slavery), Native Americans (genocide), and Mexicans  (land grabbing) have been mistreated in American history.  It is very, very bad.  But the way to correct this is not by continued anger, but by assimilation.  

We now have a Black America and a Non-Black America (Hispanics actually assimilate in a few generations very well). Unless we have a common culture, there will always be a divide. We can have our nuances (I have retained some of the Slovak ways of my forefathers, for example), but we must meld into one culture.  

A friend from the UK made this statement: "In the UK, when someone I don't know calls me on the phone, I cannot tell if they are white or black. But when I came to the U.S., there was a clear difference.  It was then I realized something was very wrong."

We need to give people a sense of dignity and self-sufficiency by making it possible for them to take care of their own needs.  Handouts are good in a pinch or for a time, but a life of dependency is not the ideal except for those who are truly victims of circumstances they cannot control.

IMO, ministries that teach people to fish are not a diversion. But blanket charity, guilt over the past, and trying to force the government toward socialism -- these are the domain of the social gospelers and will be detrimental to evangelicals as they turn from making disciples and loving others in the Name of Jesus to making the world a better place.

"The Midrash Detective"

Joel Shaffer's picture


Again let me say that racial reconciliation has been one of the 7 promises since its inception.  However, in 1996, the overall theme was "Breaking Down Walls," so of course there will be an emphasis on Breaking down racial barriers.  If the theme was something different back in 1996, I would have thought the same thing.  But they advertised their theme in brochures, flyers, videos across the nation was breaking down barriers (with a huge emphasis on racial) so I don't see that it was a bait and switch at all.   Also, Racial Reconciliation was never a fad in multi-ethnic churches.  Periodically, we have to deal with that issues that are related to race/culture that homogeneous churches don't have to deal with. 

I think that we are talking past each other when it comes to social justice.  It comes across as if you assume that the definition of social justice that Christians are talking about is somehow rooted in socialism and/or distribution of wealth so that there will be equality of outcomes.   Sadly, many who critique social justice seem to think that the whole Social Justice movement originated out of secular, progressive/liberal thinking from the 1960's and 1970's, when actually Social Justice originated out of Catholic Social Teaching in the 1840's as an alternative to socialism.

However,  the term was  co-opted by secular liberal political thought starting with Rawls about 50 years ago and has digressed into the secular mess that it is today.   Yet the conservative evangelicals that i know who embraces social justice do not see social justice in the way that you described it with an emphasis on socialism and distribution of wealth. They see the danger just as much as you and I do when it comes to creating dependency and wholeheartedly agree with Bob Lupton's Toxic Charity and Charity Detox and would apply the same principles to the government as well as non-profit charity.  However, they see (as do I) injustices that still exist in certain systems and structures of our society.  That is why many are for Criminal Justice Reform, which is a social justice issue.  A book that I am looking forward to reading is Dr. Anthony Bradley's "Ending Over-criminalization and Mass Incarceration: Hope from Civil Society."  It will not fit in either the left narrative of primarily blaming the new Jim Crow (corrupt racial systems) without anything to say about the individual/culture nor the right's narrative where the current systems are fine, but casts blame on the individual/culture.   Here is what Bradley wrote a couple years ago in World Magazine.

There is more I'd like to say about this, but I am holding my tongue.