A few days ago, in the midst of this past week’s series of tragedies that included the horrific deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five members of the Dallas Police Department, Christian leader John MacArthur appeared in a video titled “Racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement.” The video was posted by The Master’s Seminary, where MacArthur is the president. The video addressed the topic in a fairly roundabout manner, closing with MacArthur stating that “when the Gospel changes your life, you go from social issues to spiritual issues.”
Let me begin by saying that the aforementioned statement is a downright theological disaster. The Gospel — the pure, unadulterated Gospel — does not set us free from taking part in social action. Instead, the Gospel demands our presence when social problems arise. If we care in the slightest about the temporary and eternal well-being of our fellow humans, we MUST respond to social issues. In fact, we must be at the forefront of response. Christian rapper Trip Lee responded to MacArthur’s video on Twitter by saying “The Good News doesn’t mean ignore social issues, because it’s all that matters. It means we can’t ignore them. God cares & we should too.”
If we believe God is a God of justice, we must be His hands and feet during times of social turmoil. If we do the opposite and remove ourselves, retreating to what some would call “more spiritual things,” we’re doing a poor job, to say the least, of reflecting God’s character. Scripture clearly states that God loves justice. Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah’s love for justice in Isaiah 61:1-3:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”
Jesus did not only care about justice. It was His mission. He came to this world as a man, He felt our pain and He chose to die so that we’d hear a resounding “NOT GUILTY” come Judgment Day, if we simply believe in His love for us. While on Earth, He demonstrated this justice by refusing religious passivity and instead showing compassion for prostitutes, loving those who were at the time the very symbol of injustice (tax collectors), and declaring that His followers should do the same. He was the greatest humanitarian the world has ever known.
The Gospel preached by this man, this Jesus, demands social action. To instead build a wall between sacred and secular is to misunderstand such a Gospel. There is a false theology circulating amongst many Christian communities and even believed by pastors and leaders, even in this day and age, that there is some sort of barrier between the sacred things and the secular things. Those who subscribe to this barrier attempt to push Christians to the side of the sacred. This could mean simply reading Bibles, praying, attending Bible studies, memorizing Scripture, etc., WITHOUT involvement in non-Christian circles. In my humble opinion, such a way of life has detached Christians from engaging with culture in the name of creating Christian countercultures that have little potential for spreading the Gospel. Instead of seeking and saving the lost (the words of Jesus), we retreat to our Christian bubbles.
It’s safe there, right? We won’t be affected by the world’s evils and we won’t have to face others who don’t think like us. Bring your notebook and your acoustic guitar! (Please don’t take this the wrong way).
While studying for my undergraduate thesis project, I read a book by Al Wolters entitled Creation Regained that deconstructed this sacred/secular divide and instead provided the outline for a reformational worldview of Christianity. A reformational worldview calls Christians to step directly into what some would call “the secular,” proposing that Christ is sovereign over every square inch (Abraham Kuyper). Christ is sovereign over politics, art, sports, government. He is sovereign over the world’s problems and injustices. There’s not one space in the universe over which Jesus Christ is not sovereign.
The implications of this worldview are many. One of them is blatantly clear: as Christians, we MUST care about justice. It’s simply a requirement of following Christ. He cared about justice, so I must. It was His mission, so it must be mine. And that doesn’t mean I should start to care about justice when I die and go to Heaven, when I’m finally surrounded by every nation, tribe and tongue.
It starts here and now. It starts with the thrust of the Gospel: love your neighbor. Most of your neighbors don’t look like you, and many times it’s uncomfortable to love them. Sometimes you won’t feel like you belong. Sometimes you won’t know what to say. In those times, simply listen. I promise you, if you take a step toward hearing the story, the pain, the joys, the life experiences of a neighbor unlike yourself, the GOSPEL will come alive to you as you begin to love the person’s very humanity. I promise you, this Gospel will taste much sweeter than the one whose rulebook instructed you not to associate with anyone who regularly commits taboo sins you’re supposed to be afraid of.
Jesus both taught and demonstrated that we should go to people who don’t act like us, don’t look like us and don’t believe the same as us in order to hear their stories and love them in response. Through this love, the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).
This is why, as a white Christian, I must be involved when my African-American brothers and sisters tell me they’re hurting. When they release cries of oppression, I listen, because Jesus was sent to bind up the brokenhearted. Therefore, I will attempt to do the same. When they mourn, I mourn, because Jesus was sent to comfort those who mourn. When they are grieving, I grieve, because Jesus was sent to provide for those who grieve.
If I want to be like Jesus, I must step into the social narrative of our day and do what He would have done. If I settle for what is merely “spiritual,” I have completely missed His Gospel of love and compassion. On the other hand, if I have made an intentional move toward the so-called secular sphere and have there made a conscious effort to hear the stories and pain of those who don’t look like me, responding with pure compassion, I’ve actually stepped into the spiritual.
I challenge you to take that step. You’ll meet Jesus there. He’s already there, binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted. His Spirit is in the shouts of “we shall overcome.” His love is in the hearts of those who respond to the cries of the oppressed.
I want no part of a gospel whose believers would prefer to remove themselves from social issues, simultaneously refusing to validate the pain of others with passivity and instead retreating to what they’d call “more spiritual things.”
I’ll take the social Gospel instead… the one Jesus preached. I will not be silent.
Live it with me. Reject the fear-motivated, false dichotomies that have been perpetuated in the voices of those who prefer comfort over compassion. Reject safety in the name of love. Jesus didn’t save the world with safety. He saved it with a daring love.
Get woke. Stay woke.
Note: An incredible piece of art that encompasses the beauty of the social gospel is Kendrick Lamar’s song titled “How Much A Dollar Cost.” I challenge you to listen, read the lyrics, and act accordingly. Search for the metaphor at work in the song and read Matthew 25 to understand how it’s not so metaphorical after all. **LANGUAGE WARNING**
There are many who call themselves Christian who are not, in fact, followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus preached and acted a socially active message as reflected in the Gospels.
I do AGREE! Everything that is going on in the “WORLD” we do need “GOD.” We get “PEACE” through the “WORD.”
Nate – THANK YOU for mentioning the MacArthur video. I was bothered for DAYS by it. “It’s not my job to fix anything?” REALLY?? “I just preach the gospel and bring Christ to people”. WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES “BRINGING CHRIST TO PEOPLE” LOOK LIKE TO YOU, JOHN?
Ok, I’ll stop using all caps now. I was aghast. I’ve always thought he was a bit of a know-it-all blowhard, but I was absolutely STUNNED by such an obvious abdication of responsibility to the social issues of the day. Jesus’ entire ministry was devoted to the social issues of the day, and we are to model him. As you said, and as I’ve said to several friends this week, the gospel IS social, and to miss this is to COMPLETELY miss the point of being Christ to this world (sorry, I broke my no caps rule).
Excellently written. I think we’d be buds. Keep writing!
Ben, thanks for the encouragement. I wanted to make sure not to demonize John MacArthur here, but simply point out the irresponsible nature of the comment and the video. I had a friend point out to me that he could have intended otherwise, which is true, but rhetoric is so important and we have to pay attention to what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. Sometimes, words make all the difference. The words in that video were irresponsible and a deficient response to the ongoing problem of racism we have in this country. Thanks for sharing and thanks again for the encouragement!
My sister-in-law responded with this: “Mac’s point was that it’s not either/or but rather a matter of order. Only out of a transformed, Spirit-powered heart can a man do what is required of him: to “…do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (your) God”. Investing resources in the harvest reaps an eternal crop.”
I went back and watched the video again and pulled a number of what you call “irresponsible” words. I just don’t see MacArthur communicating priority of spiritual over social. I see a VERY clear statement of “spiritual” to the exclusion of “social”:
“It (racism) is a non-issue. It doesn’t even exist as an issue.”
“I can’t fix racial injustices. I can’t fix people who feel like they are disenfranchised”
“The object of life is no longer to fix past injustices”
“I’m not going to say ‘now you’re a believer – I’m gonna send you back into a pre-salvation world and ask you if you can fix that’. It just can’t be done.”
“Once they come to Christ, all other issues fall away. they disappear.”
“When the gospel changes your life, you go from social issues to spiritual matters.”
As you say, rhetoric matters, and all of that smacks (to me) of a conscious abdication of any societal responsibility.
Boom! I couldn’t have said it better. If he meant something else, I don’t think the words would’ve reflected such an abdication.
Update: I tried to find that video to show someone recently, and it’s nowhere to be found. I hope it’s gone for the right reasons, but I’m glad it’s gone regardless.
Hope you’re well.
Reblogged this on NATE LAKE and commented:
Since George Floyd died I’ve been trying to find the words to speak, but they just don’t seem to be surfacing. I’ve been up late at night, sometimes just crying and pleading with God… my heart hurts and the words just won’t come. But I realized this is nothing new… so here are some words I wrote 4 years ago after the murders of Philando Castile & Alton Sterling.
WHITE CHRISTIANS: this is aimed directly at you. Let it poke you, hurt you, make you feel uncomfortable, and hopefully, inspire some change in you. I’m including myself in that target audience. THE TIME IS NOW.