John MacArthur’s rejection of Social Justice in the name of the gospel makes absolutely zero sense.
Megachurch pastor and Bible teacher John MacArthur has made waves recently. That’s because his recent statements rejecting the Evangelical embrace of social justice issues have caused a lot of disagreement (full disclosure; that includes me as well). MacArthur has even gone so far as to break his statements down into a series of prepositions that pastors and leaders can publicly sign. I won’t go blow for blow in what he said; other writers have done a great job of that.
This is not new rhetoric out of the California based theologian. Not long ago he launched a book and conference hailing all Pentecostals as heretics for their doctrines on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. What has remained heavy in my heart and mind though is MacArthur’s misappropriation of the ties between the gospel and social justice issues. It goes beyond misappropriation, really. From my perspective, it actually obscures and misunderstands the very nature of Christian faith and practice. When we understand the role of justice in the grand plan and mission of God, MarArthur’s view becomes more rigid and escapist as we go on.
Longing for Social Justice
The first and most grave misunderstanding of rejecting the themes of social justice in light of the gospel is that it ignores a very God given yearning for justice itself. I resonate much more deeply with N.T. Wright’s ideas about justice. Specifically that a sense of justice is one of the “voices” of the divine image inside of us that yearns for God Himself. As we live and move through a world broken and marred by the fall, we see wrong upon wrong and injustice upon injustice. Humans declare to themselves and one another “this is not right!” We long for a more just world. A more perfect and peaceful world. That is not the wisdom of this world which God calls foolish (as MacArthur asserted), but a desire created by God himself longing for God himself.
To take it a step further, New Covenant Christianity is a resoundingly hopeful answer to that ache within us. The prophetic message of Jesus is “behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5 ESV). Jesus ushered in a new kingdom. A new way of life. He started the work of re-creation, of putting all things right. It’s not a stretch or an act of worldly rhetoric to see that Jesus was doing this on a social/racial/gender level as well.
Scripture and Social Justice
In John 4, we see Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman. Samaritans were the subject of deep, vile ethnic hatred by the Jews. Add on being a woman in a strongly patriarchal society and the very fact that Jesus engaged this woman is nothing short of remarkable. Whats more, by the end of their conversation she was so inspired that she was sharing him with the people as the messiah.
The book of Acts is a riveting story of the church’s birth. The inclusion of the gentile churches (ethnically and socially different) is a major theme of the New Testament. It’s a realization of John’s vision of a great multitude from every nation (Rev. 7:9). Again, N.T. Wright has a very relevant perspective on this:
“For Paul ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ are the same word, as they were in Hebrew. Paul clearly believes that helping the poor is a central and ongoing part of Christian commitment, precisely because in Jesus Christ God has unveiled and launched his plan for the rescue, redemption and renewal of the whole creation. Justification and justice go very closely together.” – N.T Wright
Our World and Social Justice
Now lets take this scriptural mandate and turn our eyes back to our current status as an Evangelical church; not only does the necessity for social, racial and gender equity become clear, it’s unbecoming of the church to ignore it. What makes MacArthur’s views so appalling to me is that he treats the rejection of social justice like it’s a mild disagreement over afternoon tea. Unfortunately that positional flippancy fails to see the life or death social justice issues that break the heart of God every day.
People’s lives and dignity are at stake. The oppressed and hurting cry out to us; over 30,000 refugees fleeing their homes because of war. Women ripped of their rights and dignity in honor killings. In the US we have Police brutality, Opioid epidemics, the #MeToo movement and more. All of these issues need Bible-believing, Spirit filled, compassion driven Christians running straight to them in engagement, not away from them in escapist rhetoric.
With the context of Scripture toppling MacArthur’s arguments, the holes get poked in the mask and the white Evangelical fragility begins to show. It’s without excuse. Every generation of the church has had to rise up in rejection of false teaching. Maybe social justice is our moment.
Finally, (and perhaps I wouldn’t even need to write this entire post but rather share this,) God issued a prophetic command of what he requires through the prophet Micah:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?