Well-known author and pastor John MacArthur recently co-authored a Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, which, among other topics, took issue with social justice as it applies to race and ethnicity. To date, the Statement has been signed by 12,007 conservative, primarily white evangelical pastors in the United States. To be fair, Dr. MacArthur prides himself on and is well known for his exegesis (a critical examination of scripture which carefully pulls the meaning “out of” the scriptures). And over his five decades of ministry, brother John has consistently gotten most things right as a result. It’s just that, in a considerable number of studied opinions, including my own, his Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, as it pertains to race and ethnicity, is not one of them — and that requires a vigorous response. Nevertheless, he has been a staunch defender of Scripture as it is best interpreted by careful study, and has defended it against many misinterpretations, misapplications and fads throughout his ministry. In doing so, he has rendered a valuable service to biblical fidelity in the American Christian Church over the past fifty years. If that is fair enough, then let me proceed.
Issue 1 – Sin
Due to historical misinterpretations and misapplications and cultural forces (primary among them White Supremacy – which is idolatry) which go back hundreds of years, American Christianity has its blind sides, and those blind sides can create an unconscious bias in the paradigms and teaching of any preacher/teacher. It’s also true that all pastors are human, and as scripture says, we all “see through a glass darkly,” and so we all can and do occasionally interpret the scriptures according to our own paradigms, biases, life experiences and persuasions regardless of, or in addition to, those caused by our historical and cultural blinders. When we unintentionally do this, we depart from our normal, careful exegesis of the scripture into “eisegesis” (an interpretation of scripture that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias and paradigms, rather than the intended meaning of the text). We may or may not be preaching good stuff when we unintentionally do that, but if we are, it is our good stuff, not God’s. And if it’s bad stuff, well… that’s strictly on us. It occasionally happens, even to the very best of Bible expositors.
To state my hypothesis right at the beginning, my exegesis of the scriptures regarding racial justice and equity, which are ubiquitous throughout the Bible, has led me to conclude that MacArthur’s statements on race and ethnicity in his Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel are based on a faulty eisegesis of scripture, and therefore his theological constructs and conclusions (and those of his co-authors) in the Statement regarding race and ethnicity are incorrect. Further, I believe they are harmful to the gospel of Christ and the Great Commission of the Church (Matthew 28:19-20), both of which we all highly revere, and harmful to the black and Latino communities not only in the United States, but globally. The reason for that is that the scriptures are true, if interpreted correctly, and their truth applies to every person around the world. So if the truth becomes error, that error redounds to the harm of those who hear it and believe it and make decisions based on it all around the globe, as well as to any ethnic segment of our population that is harmed thereby, and to the lives and opportunities of individuals within them. It is not credibly deniable that a huge segment of the electorate look to their theological constructs and religious beliefs (whether studiously informed, or grossly corrupted by politics or today’s political propaganda or punditry) for reason to cast, or to justify their votes. Nor can it be credibly denied that, in today’s world, millions of voters have been taught to conflate such corrupted political beliefs with biblical truth. Accordingly, when de facto voting blocks are formed within the church whose votes are cast in large part based on corrupted political positions formed or confirmed by incorrect biblical interpretations, those votes result in the passage of laws and the formation and maintenance of systems and budgets and public policies “on the ground” that are objectively and directly harmful to communities of color in the U.S. and globally. Apartheid, chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and today’s active maintenance and building of the New Jim Crow are primary examples – all of which were and are engendered by incorrect interpretations of scripture.
Drawing from the Statement’s Introduction, MacArthur writes:
As we read through MacArthur’s Statement, he elaborates on what he and the Statement’s 12,007 signers perceive to be “values borrowed from secular culture” that are “undermining Scripture” in the areas of race and ethnicity. For now, we shall note that the Statement begins with sixteen “affirmations and denials” concerning MacArthur’s perception of scriptural truth in those areas. Regarding the topic of “Sin” (MacArthur’s fifth denial), he writes:
Again, MacArthur will elaborate further, but for now, I raise three initial objections to this denial, as follows:
MacArthur’s Denial #5 (Objection 1):
First, our nation’s liability to pay reparations for chattel slavery is a national debt that cannot be canceled merely by the death of its white citizens, any more than the debt of a deceased individual can cancel his debt. Rather, the debt is then assumed by his estate, and his testators pay the just debt out of the wealth of his estate. Our national sin established our national debt, and nowhere in scripture does God ever permit any nation to be freed from its sin debt. Typically, He would bring a judgment on the nation. However, God is not unjust to overlook sin debts, even national ones. If in His sovereignty he does not bring swift judgment, the debt is never cancelled, but reserved for judgment day, when all nations will be gathered and judged in equity and righteousness, according to the gospel.
Secondly, our generation’s liability to pay reparations, since that debt is not severed from us, is not only based on our ancestor’s perpetration of chattel slavery upon citizens of African nations, but is, in fact, also our generation’s liability because we do continue to enjoy wealth that was illegally (in God’s view) handed down to us. As that wealth was extorted property, our ancestors had no biblical right to transfer it to us, nor did we have any divine right to receive it debt free, contrary to Papal Bulls or eisegetical theological heresies to the contrary. Neither do we have any right to continue to enjoy it debt free. It is a fact that our nation’s wealth was generated by the forced labor of kidnapped citizens from many African nations, who then by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution later became American citizens. That debt is due and payable by us as a nation, right now.
And thirdly, our generation is the one currently building upon and maintaining the New Jim Crow, which prevents wealth building by the African-American community and thereby enhances our ability to build wealth, without worry of reparations or an equitable tax burden. Our generation is living in middle-class housing financed to white people under FHA loans, but denied to our nation’s black citizenry. Our white wealth, inequitably obtained, is passed down to our white children via home ownership and transfer on death. Not so for black families. Our generation went to college on GI loans – which were not made available to black GI’s and/or to whom equal education was nevertheless denied by Jim Crow laws. Our generation is still perpetrating mass-incarceration on the black community under race-based policing, prosecution and imprisonment, which prevents black families from building wealth and limits their competition with us for wealth acquisition. So our generation has PLENTY of racial sin on its hands, and owes plenty of debt that we have accrued all by ourselves, long after our ancestors were gathered together unto their own.
To not recognize these facts is cultural blindness, to cultural sin; for which the white electorate of our generation has accrued debt to the black community. And this is in addition to the debt our nation still owes for the racial sins of past generations, which we continue to enjoy.
Accordingly, our generation does approve and embrace the racial sins of our ancestors — despite the deceitfulness of our hearts and the denials of our mouths. And MacArthur’s false eisegetical constructs, by being made freely available to those who are culturally and biblically blind and culturally and unbiblically predisposed to denying our debt does provide just the tool needed by those so predisposed to justify those sins and continue our sinful enjoyment of wealth biblically owed to others.
So yes, we do, by MacArthur’s own standards, share the collective guilt of our ancestors – and we have mightily added massive new amounts of sin debt of our own accord and on our own account.
MacArthur’s Denial #5 (Objection 2):
First, use of this scriptural truth out of context is clearly a false eisegesis, as well as an invalid application by MacArthur. MacArthur is using this truth out of context because while it is true that each person must repent and confess his or her own sins in order to be forgiven, it is also true that whenever any scripture is taken out of context, it becomes invalid in the context in which it is being used. MacArthur should know you cannot use this truth to cancel a sin debt without proper confession to God and proper conciliation with your offended neighbor, and, whenever possible, restitution. Viz: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. These verses and many others make clear that in God’s sight, confession “to God” without also reconciling and paying our debt to our brother is no confession to God at all. God has told us, in writing, repeatedly, that such an attempt is insufficient – it won’t be accepted and will not work. God will not be pulled or eisegeted into inequitable treatment of another human, as He cannot partake in sin.
Secondly, if it were only that easy, we could all transfer all our sin debt right over to Jesus without any satisfaction of our debt to our neighbors, and God’s righteousness would become a cloak for our sin. God would be our co-conspirator against our injured neighbors. Jesus’ blood is not to be used in such a fashion. While yes, He may forgive us if we are truly in-Christ and perpetrate our sin unknowingly or without arrogant continuation – but He never intended or intimated that His grace in forgiving our sin could be used as a justification to sin even more by refusing to pay just debts or relieve harm that we have caused. This is not a proper use of the phrase “Jesus paid it all.” Jesus paid for our sin – but He does not justify it, or its continuance. He also does not pay our monetary debts to those whom we owe. He has not cancelled our debt to our neighbors.
MacArthur’s Denial #5 (Objection 3):
This denial is culturally typical for white people to make toward culpability for our racial sin and our responsibility for repentance and racial conciliation. As is the case for most in the conservative white evangelical Church, MacArthur makes this error due to both cultural blindness and spiritual/scriptural blindness – the latter caused and overridden by the former, as bias (whether conscious or unconscious) is always the culprit when eisegesis overtakes exegesis. Certainly, no area of human interaction is off-limits to sin, or we make God a liar and there is no truth in us or need for Him in that area. And certainly, given the Papal Bulls that resulted in the theft of North and South America and the genocide of over 100 million indigenous peoples in the stolen lands, followed by the invention of slaveholder religion, Jim Crow religion and now New Jim Crow religion, no serious scholar can credibly deny that White Supremacy hasn’t been a sin perpetrated by the white church toward people of color for almost two millennia. And certainly, today’s vast, racially segregated, impoverished neighborhoods aren’t something that God created or that black people desire to live in or live in due to moral failings, as those arguments are nothing but the children of the “happy slave” myth, and products of the morphing of Slaveholder Religion into New Jim Crow theology. In fact, today’s vast, racially segregated and impoverished neighborhoods are the direct result of the sins of chattel slavery, Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow. So of course there is a connection between the ethnicity of people of color who as a class are the descendants of those we as a class enslaved and the victims, since emancipation, of our Jim Crow and New Jim Crow public policies — brought to them by individual white voters — which is our particular sin.
But, the proponents of this eisegetical construct will be quick to point out – their argument, and thus the destruction of mine, hinge on one word – “necessary.” Well — that is straining at gnats while choosing to swallow camels. Appropriate recognition of facts and correct exegesis would rather have the proponents of this error say something that Christ would say, like: “While some black people have overcome the hurdles we put up for them as a race and have individually moved into the middle class, that does not cancel out our debt to them for our sin, nor obviate the struggles they certainly faced in overcoming. Nor does it even address that black people “as a whole” have never been able to overcome and move out of the severe poverty our white supremacy imposed upon them as a class — for which Godly repentance and reparations are due.
Issue 2 – The Church
The second issue I have with the “Statement of Social Justice & the Gospel” is MacArthur’s Denial # 8 – The Church. This denial reads in part as follows:
The issue I have with this denial is (1) the biased meaning and one-sided use of the phrase “political or social activism,” and (2) the part that denies that “political or social activism” are “primary to the mission of the church.” Here, the Statement is ingenuous and misleading.
It throws the world’s majority black and Latino citizens under the bus — as if the conservative white evangelical church has ever, to date, permitted them a co-equal space on the church bus in the first place. And as it has stamped from the beginning, it re-stamps the conservative white evangelical church’s racist imprimatur on the gospel, handing America’s “moderate white” electoral majority (as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. aptly described it in 1968) a 21st century “New Jim Crow Theology,” good for another delay of racial justice and equity of God knows how long. Christ’s repeated exhortation to his followers to wake up, lest ye fall into temptation has been ignored. The Statement counsels the church to take it’s rest and acquiesce once again to the long oppression of God’s people, for the Savior delays his return. It “victim shames” the oppressed, and relieves the oppressors — and both of those are sin.
But let me explain. First, the phrase “political or social activism” is typically understood in the conservative white evangelical church as carrying what is perceived to be a “liberal’ or “leftist” connotation. Accordingly, the use of this phrase in the Statement constitutes a coded message, that will be widely understood to carry this meaning. Indeed, as the Statement concerns social and racial justice and portrays both in a negative (even a dangerous light), it not only carries this meaning, but it puts it on blast. Of course this mission and message are one-sided — the conservative white evangelical church absolutely does encourage engagement in right-wing politics, particularly in the areas of abortion and homosexuality. And this, despite the fact that the World Health Organization has documented that the “Mexico City Policy” adopted by every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan’s substantially increases abortions in sub-Saharan Africa, and the fact that restrictions on access to long-term contraceptives increases abortion rates. These are conservative public policies, and studies show that they increase, rather than decrease abortions. Tens of thousands more, rather than fewer, pre-born sub-Saharan and American babies perish each year because of lack of knowledge in the conservative white evangelical voting block, and directly result from the well-intended, but misinformed, votes they cast. Regardless, the conservative white evangelical church routinely incorporates both of these issues as “signature issues” in its messaging, with the result that they are, in effect, widely understood (or misunderstood?) to be essential to the gospel. Nevertheless, the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel portrays that such “political or social activism”, when it is in the area of racial justice and equity, is dangerous to the gospel. Indeed, the conservative white evangelical church advocates very strongly, both formally and informally, for public policies perceived to be “conservative,” (sometimes, as noted previously, with little to no awareness that some of these policies actually do the opposite of the church members’ intention). And indeed some conservative white evangelical denominations have commissions or similar bodies specifically tasked to understand selected moral demands of the gospel, and to lobby for Christian principles to be applied to moral and social issues and questions of public policy. Experience has proven, though, that these bodies face a lot of resistance in the pews and from powerful pastors and churches to any ministries, initiatives or teachings when they touch upon racial justice or equity. Moreover, they cannot and should not have it both ways. Scripture says to test everything, and to accept the good and reject the bad.
But the conservative white evangelical church has, fervently and with abandon, adopted the mission of pushing right-wing politics and social activism, having secured by an 81% margin its members votes for the Republican Party in the 2016 presidential election. Such votes are not divinely benign as they also perpetrate racial sin and build the New Jim Crow in many ways, including by enabling the adoption of minority voter suppression measures in Republican-controlled state legislatures and by establishing it as a priority in the office of the President. Indeed, the great evangelist Billy Graham emphasized preserving the gospel message precisely by recognizing the scriptural fidelity and biblical rightness of many aspects of social and racial justice, stating:
Indeed, Graham so disagreed with the lurch to the right of the conservative white evangelical church in the United States that he cast himself as having no part of Jerry Falwell’s “Silent Majority” organization, saying
And in a February 1, 1981 Parade Magazine article he described the religious right as possessing a form of “religious bigotry” and offered wise and blunt counsel, saying:
Despite Graham’s sage counsel, by 2016, conservative white evangelists, pastors and churches in America had largely adopted the far-right’s political agenda and became, by an 81% margin, what is not mischaracterized as a weaponized voting block against minorities and the poor in this country, even voting for what the far-right and disinterested observers alike agree is a white nationalist political agenda.
The Gospel of the Cross and the Gospel of the Kingdom
To be clear, there is only one gospel, but it includes a heart (the gospel of the cross, expounded in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and a larger but integral body to which the heart gives life (the gospel of the kingdom). Just as the human heart is central to the human body, the basic framework of the biblical teaching of the gospel is that the “gospel of the cross” is central to the “gospel of the kingdom.” To illustrate the biblical framework of the gospel, one can use the imagery of a “zoom lens” to zero in on the center of the gospel (the gospel of the cross), or a “wide-angle lens” (the gospel of the kingdom). The “wide-angle” perspective on the gospel is captured biblically with the phrase “gospel of the kingdom.” But regardless of the lens used, the call to repent and believe is always included, for the “gospel of the cross” is the at the center of and is the fountainhead of the kingdom. When properly expounded, the gospel of the kingdom does not deny or diminish, but is inextricably bound together, depends upon and affirms the gospel of the cross. It is a deleterious to the mission of the church to de-emphasize or criticize teaching about the gospel of the kingdom or the body’s mission therein, as then the gospel of the heart would have nowhere to pump the blood to, and no limbs or members with which to accomplish the mission of the church.
As Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research has pointed out, one should not underplay the relationship of secondary ministries to those in the community that are not immediately didactic and explicitly gospel revealing. Of course preaching the gospel of the cross is of primary importance. But in arguing that not only is it not very important in God’s mission for the church to intervene on behalf of the oppressed as God commanded in Isaiah 1:17, but also that doing so somehow necessarily distracts from and is dangerous to the gospel, one makes God a liar and overlooks the reality that correcting racial oppression is a powerful demonstration of gospel love to millions of unbelievers who need and yearn for it, so doing so can definitely be one way to let the church’s light “shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) — and thereby serve as a powerful first stage of the disciple-making process. Indeed, as robust racial justice ministries are clearly needed both in the U.S. and globally, they fulfill God’s commandment to “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), and should for all these reasons be encouraged, not discouraged.
On the contrary, those who exclusively preach the gospel of the cross erroneously equate “making disciples” with evangelism. Making disciples includes evangelism (2 Timothy 4:5), but in “teaching everything Jesus commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20), advocating for racial justice and equity for those who have insufficient electoral voice (Proverbs 31:8-9) and stopping racial oppression (Isaiah 1:17) are also parts of teaching your congregation “to obey all I have commanded,” and thus are important parts of the disciple-making process. Otherwise, God would not have included so much about speaking up for those with no voice and correcting oppression in the scriptures. And besides, teaching people that the church does not care about their needs never gets people very fired up. Or, if a believer went to a store seeking formula, diapers and medicine for his infant and the store told him they only carried gospel tracts, that believer is unlikely to shop at that store ever again (you’re welcome).
As Stetzer further points out, the mission of the church always must include making disciples, but the life of disciples will always produce work unique to its time and place, relating to the various needs and corruptions in the world around us. And as evidenced by America’s vast impoverished and racially segregated neighborhoods, crumbling urban schools and disproportionately minority-filled prisons, ending systemic racism is one of America’s most pressing needs and greatest inadequately-addressed corruptions. John Stott has pointed out that the church’s mission is everything they are sent into the world to do, which he says entails both the “Great Commission” and the “Great Commandment.” And James 2:15-20 puts the hurt on any eisegesis to the contrary, without mincing words:
Such work is not only the fruit of discipleship, but is also, through modeling, part of the process of making disciples. Where would I be, for example, had someone not shown me how to minister to juveniles and adult inmates, or to do the work of ministry in nursing homes, or to minister to youth and families in violence-prone housing projects? For the scriptures say ” Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). And indeed, the gospel of the cross and the gospel of the kingdom are explicitly tied to one another by Titus 3:8, which commands “concerning these things (the gospel of the cross), I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds (the gospel of the kingdom). These things are good and profitable for men.” And again, Ephesians 2:10 ties the two together, “For we are . . . created in Christ Jesus (the gospel of the cross) for good works (the gospel of the kingdom), which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” You cannot walk in a good work that you vilify. Thus, those who denigrate the hard work of racial justice and equity by the church, even calling it “dangerous” to the gospel of the cross, err exegetically, lack ecclesiastical common sense and greatly weaken the gospel of the kingdom. They harm God’s people and the unchurched. Indeed, by prolonging racial injustice, inequity and suffering while claiming to speak for Christ and to be accurately expounding His word and character, they bring reproach on Christ and His church, and set back His cause and the Great Commission of the church in ways that are inter-generational and not soon forgotten. Such errors actually cause those who are not yet evangelized or discipled to flee from Christ, the gospel and the church, and potentially relegate billions to hell world-wide as their error runs its inter-generational course. This is diametrically opposed to the church’s Great Commission.
Certainly, as decent people in a decent country, we should eliminate the New Jim Crow tomorrow. And that is specifically a ubiquitous and over-arching scriptural calling of the Church. If we are His sons and daughters, we are to be about His business, occupying until Christ returns. Certainly, part of the gospel call to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), to deeply feel the pain of others (weep with those who weep – Romans 2:15), and to consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) is to speak up for those who are oppressed (Proverbs 31:8-9) and indeed, to “learn to do good; seek justice, [and] correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17).
Quite the contrary to pooh-poohing racial justice and equity, scripture says we are to “hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15). Those who attack the thirst for racial justice and equity where it exists in the Church — outright stating that it is “dangerous” and “contrary to the Gospel,” and “creating a victim mentality,” can, sadly, be compared to those of whom Amos 5:7 speaks: “O you who turn justice to bitter fruit and cast down righteousness to the earth.” Unfortunately, the message sent by those who authored, and the 12,007 (at last count) conservative, primarily white evangelical pastors who signed on to 2018’s Statement on Social Justice & The Gospel to those who faithfully exegete God’s commands for racial justice and equity appears aptly foretold in Amos 5:10, viz: “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.” Indeed, a quick search for “equity” in the Bible reveals God’s high esteem for it, including in 2 Samuel 8:15, 1 Chronicles 18;14, and Psalms 67:4, 75:2, 96:10, 98;9, 99:4, Proverbs 1:3 and 2:9 and Isaiah 11:4. Also, the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, strongly condemns and warns those who programmatically oppress others by proxy through their electoral ballots (Isaiah 10:1-4) and those who close their ears to the oppressed (Proverbs 21:13). As this warning especially should be heeded by the weaponized voting block against the minorities and the poor that, by an 81% margin, currently subsists in the conservative white evangelical church in America, it will be salvific to all therein with willing ears to hear, to include the text of Isaiah 10:1-4 here:
And to those who constantly record unjust decisions,
So as to deprive the needy of justice
And rob the poor of My people of their rights,
So that widows may be their spoil
And that they may plunder the orphans.
Now what will you do in the day of punishment,
And in the devastation which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your wealth?
Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives
Or fall among the slain.
In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away
And His hand is still stretched out.
As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, these verses were not just for Assyria, but are for the church’s instruction today. And when it says “Woe to those who enact evil (racially unjust) statutes” these verses are not just speaking to the politicians your vote and conservative voting block helped elect. God pierces the veil of the office, to get at those who put them there to do their bidding. This is not a “political” thing, but a matter of building New Jim Crow oppression, which is sin. The mission of Christ’s Church is clearly to be a light to the world, and we are to join Him in His work of seeking justice, equity and mercy for all.
A second issue I have with the “Statement of Social Justice & the Gospel” Denial # 8 – The Church is this statement:
My concern with this denial is that it is a hermeneutically flawed interpretation of scripture that skirts perilously close in its practical effect to antinomianism. In everyday language, this denial gets it wrong and thereby gives permission to those who are culturally sighted as opposed to spiritually surrendered to give less emphasis to racial justice than scripture as a whole gives it. Valid interpretation of scripture must proceed according to the entire biblical context, commonly referred to as the “full counsel of God.” To do that, scripture must be compared with scripture. In doing that, it is clear that as God’s commands regarding justice intrinsically flow from His immutable character and are ubiquitous throughout scripture, they therefore occupy, by God’s fiat, an equally important emphasis in the full counsel of God to His church as do mercy and other aspects of humble obedience to God; viz:
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Therefore, to de-emphasize the importance of justice and equity of any kind, including advocating for racial justice and equity as an important part of God’s commission for His church in a world where such injustice and inequity is so rampant and destructive to the imago dei and where it occupies such an important position in God’s word just gets it wrong. It is not based on accurate scriptural interpretation, but on an eisegetical assignment to a rank of lesser importance, even to the point of mischaracterizing it as being “dangerous to the gospel” and to the missio ecclesia, the mission of the church.
Indeed, John MacArthur has stated:
So, when we . . . obey the law of God, we give ultimate honor to God. We affirm His holiness, and we seek to imitate His holiness. That’s the highest and the noblest kind of worship. So, to come along and say that the law is unimportant is to say that the very nature of God and the will of God as reflected in His law is insignificant and unimportant, which I see as a blow or a strike against the very character of God. That is why, at the end of Romans 3, Paul says, after talking about justification by grace through faith alone (the gospel of the cross), he says, “Do we nullify the law?” And then he says, me genoito, “No, no, no, God forbid: but we establish the law.”
So then to tell the church that the pursuit of racial justice and equity within it is dangerous to the gospel, despite subordinate messaging that appends that message with a mild exhortation to “have some effect” on the laws of “a” society is inconsistent messaging by MacArthur. Such an appendix imparts zero knowledge to the conservative white evangelical church as to how their votes are translated into public policies that build the New Jim Crow, and gives no instruction into how to vote in such a way as to establish racial justice and equity or to avoid continuing to build the New Jim Crow as a voting block. It not only does not “exhort with all authority” or “rebuke with all authority” such unrighteous ecclesiastical voting block behavior, but gives millions of people in the conservative white evangelical church spiritual permission to continue to build the New Jim Crow with their votes and daily decisions. Having given no clue into these things, church members are left with only the primary message (that racial justice ministries are dangerous to the gospel), so (1) they won’t do any anti-racist ministries, and will in fact be opposed to them, and (2) they will continue their voting block behavior which is building the New Jim Crow, without even being aware of it.
A Warning from Hosea
As stated by John MacArthur, the underlying supposition of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel is that social justice is the most dangerous threat to the gospel he has ever fought. While that’s his perspective, God says in Hosea chapters 1 – 4 that the priests of Israel will no longer be His priests, because they failed to promote biblical justice. Without strong exhortation toward national (social) justice from the pulpits, there was no biblical justice in the nation, oppression reigned, bloodshed was rampant, mercy was non-existent, and the priests and the nation were judged.
In a vain attempt to differentiate between social justice (justice for everybody in society) and biblical justice (justice for everybody in society), MacArthur writes:
Well, guess what? They have been! Social justice just means justice for everybody. It differs from legal justice, which is what we hope to get in a court when a crime has been committed against us or we have been the victim of a tort at law. Rather, social justice means that government, laws systems and practices promote, rather than impede, biblical justice for everyone in society. Social justice means that the government, laws, systems and practices that are in place do not operate to permit one demographic of society to oppress or abuse any other demographic of society. That is clearly in full accord with God’s character, His designs for government, laws, systems and practices, His will and His commandments. Just like all truth is God’s truth, all justice is God’s justice. So let’s stop making God a liar by speaking against justice in any form. God is not cool with that.
MacArthur’s premises concerning the oppressed are fallacious, in that he describes their condition as “self-designed” and their second-class status as “self-perceived.” I am not sorry to inform the authors and 12,007 signers of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel that their conditions are objective. All scholarly studies from all universities, and all data, and an examination of chattel slavery and Jim Crow and New Jim Crow laws, systems and practices all illuminate objective truths – they are not “self-designed.” And what is incorrect about perceiving your own condition? Why object to that? White society preferred that citizens from African nations that they enslaved were “happy slaves,” and prefers that today’s residents of America’s vast, racially segregated impoverished neighborhoods, Section 8 and public housing complexes speak down and comport themselves with gratitude — but they know their own condition, and the causes of it. They know, while you may not, Statement signers, that there remain 44,000 “Collateral Consequences of Conviction’ laws and many other laws, systems and practices that still keep the clamps on today. They are not to be disparaged for speaking up about the urgency to change those conditions, nor are their white allies in or out of the church to be disparaged by theologians within the church. Those who do, and create elaborate theological constructs to justify such statements and behavior — and to try to put the clamps on racial justice ministries where they exist in the church are progenitors of today’s New Jim Crow Theology. Your twisting of theology will further embed and prolong the New Jim Crow by continuing to whip up weaponized voting blocks against minorities and the poor in the conservative white evangelical church, whether you are aware of it or not, in the exact same way that Slaveholder Theology and Jim Crow Theology did in America’s past. And that’s not OK.
Further, you have written that
Having been in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, 2017, and having observed how white supremacists and political conservatives mischaracterize hate speech as “free speech” and justify every lie about Jewish people, Black people, people of non-Christian faith traditions and people in the LGBTQ community as “free speech,” I have to object to your further victimizing those who are marginalized and victimized every day by such comments. Hate speech is no laughing matter, and should not be the topic of jests or discussed in a way that mocks or further victimizes its victims. For Ephesians 5:11-14 exhorts us: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” A public theologian should not speak the same things that any of the “very fine people” do whom our President described among the white supremacists and neo-Nazi militias in Charlottesville in 2017. Whether engaged in the the President of the United States or by public theologians, it is stochastic terrorism, and contributes directly to the death of innocent U.S. citizens, as happened on August 3, 2019. And having endured, with millions of other Americans, the racist memes and insensitive comments that conservative white evangelicals flood social media with on a daily basis since 2015, I just have to ask you to not encourage that kind of behavior with such comments.
Having spoken as necessary to a couple of your opening comments, let’s get back to Hosea’s warning. Hosea 4:1 states:
Benson’s Commentary expounds on this verse as follows:
And contrary to MacArthur’s (and conservative white evangelicalism’s) over-insistence that sin always be looked upon and repented of individually as opposed to nationally, the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary states:
And Hosea 4:5 says:
Of that, the Geneva Study Bible expounds the priests would perish because:
And finally, Hosea 4:6 warns:
Benson’s Commentary expounds:
And Barnes’ Notes on the Bible echos the same:
and further urges pastors and theologians to not:
such as God’s law that says “Learn to do good. Seek Justice. Correct oppression.” Barnes Notes further reminds us that:
And Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible says:
The Pulpit Commentary agrees, stating:
The penalty for that, as Hosea 4:6 reminds us, is severe.
But MacArthur goes on, saying
To which the answer of those in the church crying out with God for biblical social justice is: John — we are not messing with the “gospel of the cross.” And we are not messing with the central tenet of individual accountability for our own sin. We get that — always have. To the contrary, we are affirming both. But as partakers of salvation through the gospel of the cross, we love the Lord, and we are also attentive to the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23); including to His will and commands for justice for all — for racial justice, which is biblical justice. And we beg you and the signers of Social Justice & the Gospel to remember God’s law of justice for all — do not fall prey to the error of the priests in Hosea’s prophecy. None of us should be of those who profess to know God, but by our deeds we deny Him. In all things, we are to show ourselves to be an example of good deeds — including advocating for racial justice and equity — so that the opponent will be put to shame; having nothing bad to say about us., and so that we will “adorn the doctrine of God or Savior” in every respect. We are to be zealous for good deeds. We are to be obedient, and ready for every good deed. Those of us who have believed God (the gospel of the cross) are to be careful to engage in good deeds. It is the universal duty of every preacher to exhort and correct and teach God’s moral laws (the gospel of the kingdom – which flows out of the gospel of the cross) with all boldness (2 Timothy 4:2 and Titus 2:15) — and especially justice, mercy, faith, hope and love to all people in our charge. If we don’t, we skirt perilously close to antinomianism, and as you’ve said, we are blood guilty. Not heretics, but in very serious error — for which we are accountable.
As Justin Peters pulled his ecclesiastical punch just a little bit in his supporting article to the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel entitled Article 9 – Heresy: Explanation, truth can almost mirror his exact words back in his face by saying
We have seen this movie before.
And lastly, it begs the question of why then is it not equally dangerous to the gospel to put abortion and homosexuality on blast? Does such emphasis on those issues, in the conservative white evangelical mind, not equally distract from the purity of the gospel of the cross and the singular importance of proclaiming that message with purity and free from what are considered “secondary messages”? I’ll tell you it certainly drowns out that message in the public’s mind – as that’s about all they hear. And why, if those are important enough secondary messages to be given such prominence, isn’t society and the church’s duty to correct widespread and destructive racial oppression? Or at least, not to build on it. Hmm? Methinks it’s either just something you don’t want to emphasize, or, hopefully, because you fail to recognize it’s biblical import.
The third issue I have with the “Statement of Social Justice & the Gospel” is MacArthur’s Denial # 8 – The Church is this denial, which reads as follows:
This denial is obviously important to conservative white evangelicals, but the rest of the world is over it. It is beside the point. The point is, without legislation, the old Jim Crow would still exist, black citizens would not be able to vote, schools would still be racially segregated by law, and residential redlining would be much more prevalent than it still is. Did any of that legislation change hearts? Only tangentially, as some white people got the opportunity to know more black people, and some hearts were changed as a result. We already know — the horse is already out of the barn, that giving justice and equity to the black community will not change the racism that exists in the white community. While the black community has a long history of love, forgiveness and grace anyway, I don’t think it is holding it’s breath that somehow, that will be reciprocated by the white community and justice and equity will magically spring forth over night. So they’re not expecting or looking for that – but they (and their white allies) do want more laws and regulations to be changed. That is all. We just want relief, justice and equity. If you want to give love too, glory hallelujah, I’m sure after an initial shock, it will be accepted as it always has been.
But if you’re intimating (which I think you are) that the gospel will change hearts – you should go back over the past 400 years of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, race-based mass-incarceration, the 2016 voting block behavior of the conservative white evangelical church and all the oppression that 81% vote has brought to people of color, all the racist Facebook memes and comments conservative white evangelicals share ubiquitously on social media threads and in internet article comment sections, and your own Statement that says racial justice and equity ministries are not important, and are in fact dangerous to the gospel, and if you’re honest, the answer will pop right out at you like a sore thumb.
Could the gospel change the hearts of conservative white evangelicals toward black people? It could. So then why hasn’t it? Because conservative white evangelical pastors have not “reproved, rebuked or exhorted” (2 Timothy 4:2), their congregations with respect to racial sin and repentance much at all in the last 400 years, and “how shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14), and how shall they preach about racial sin and repentance if they are sent out with exhortations from major conservative white evangelical faith leaders that preaching, teaching and leading about racial sin and repentance is “dangerous to the gospel?” The answer is — they won’t!
So if 400 years of the gospel hasn’t done it, and if the instructions from headquarters are to not do it, I think we’ll all take “Racial justice and equity from the courts” for 400 please, Alex.
Some denominations have robust racial justice ministries. Some have scripture-honoring leaders in their denominational headquarters with respect to fighting racial sin in their midst, but struggle mightily to reach the members in the pews over the repetitive messaging of their culturally-preferred media pundits. Some denominations have a high level of dissension between their scripture-led leadership and their members over racial sensibilities, ministries and matters. Given the current level of racial injustice/sin in our country, it would be most helpful to the Great Commission of the Church for more denominations to develop robust racial justice ministries for their members to participate in and learn from. Neither I nor anybody advocating for racial justice ministries want God’s people to feel the weight of “needing to do” something God may not have called them to individually do. And I agree with the necessity to preserve the centrality of Christ in the church. But He can co-exist just fine with racial equity work without being shoved off-center, and there are some things everyone can do — like examining our own hearts, at least being a prayer warrior for racial justice and equity, and speaking up against racism when we see it. And many others will be called to make racial justice and equity, in some form, one of their primary ministries. At the very least though, faith leaders should not be creating eisegetical theological constructs that knowingly or unknowingly obstruct, slow or otherwise oppose nascent racial justice and equity in this country and around the globe, or that give cover to their members to be A.W.O.L. in or obstructive to the biblical mandate to pursue justice and end oppression, or to be a weaponized voting block contrary to the very real needs of minorities and the poor. After all, God uses both verbal witness and the good deeds of his church to make himself known for the good of all peoples. To do so is to aid and abet, perpetrate and prolong racial sin — and that is contrary to scripture, to Christ, to God’s heart, to the Great Commission of the Church, to our fellow man and to our own souls.
As humans, we see an awful lot of things “through a glass darkly,” not as Christ sees them (1 Corinthians 13:12). That truth was addressed to Christians. Thus, even as Christ followers, unless we have “walked two miles” in another man’s shoes (Matthew 5:41), we tend to be judgmental and self-righteous — and so we are instructed to walk that “extra” mile.
And certainly, the perpetration of the New Jim Crow by the ballots of those who are unaware they are even doing it will nonetheless create the need and a request for a discussion of that error by those who are impacted by it. And when we are made aware that our actions (not our thoughts or feelings) have offended our neighbor(s) (whether in Christ or not — 1st Corinthians 10:32), we are to leave church and reconcile with our neighbor(s) (Matthew 5:23-24), and then come back with better understanding and gladness, having eliminated our neighbors’ rightful offense and any injustices we have contributed to.
Because to get into the Kingdom of Heaven our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), what we must not do is to do as they may have done, and go away and construct elaborate theological arguments to justify our position. Christ castigated such approaches, warning in Matthew 5:14: “…for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer” (or construct an elaborate and false eisegetical theology to justify our position, over that of scripture). And to make Himself even clearer, Christ said “Woe to you . . . for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy . . . ; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 5:23-24).