The most recent petition initiated by John MacArthur and other evangelical pastors and theologians called “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” is another unfortunate addition to evangelical involvement in social issues.
The petition contains a series of affirmations and denials of certain teachings of Christianity, as well as cultural movements within the American church. The intended goal of it is to warn the church of its connection and flirtation with “cultural marxism” and “postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory.” In contrast to this dangerous agenda, the statement says that the Church needs to “uncompromisingly reassert and defend” God’s Word and stop falling into ideas of justice that are “culturally defined” or “socially constructed.”
There is much to be said about this, but I will focus in on what I consider to be one of the major underlying and dangerous assumptions undergirding these statements. The writers of this document implicitly believe that their discernment about justice is without cultural influence and from God, while those who advocate for social justice are led astray from the Bible’s true statement of justice. Plainly put, the petition writers, in their opinion, stand on the Word of God; those in opposition, the words of Marx.
At the heart of their confidence is a resounding trust in their own reception of God’s Word, and terrifying distrust in God’s ability to rebuke his Church through means outside of Holy Scripture. There is an explicit trust in their own interpretation of Scripture because of their conviction that God has inspired and faithfully revealed himself in his Word.
The conclusion they reach, therefore, is that we obviously must receive it perfectly and without cultural influence. Thus, according to this mindset, when I read the Bible and speak it to myself internally and to others externally, I am in fact reading the Bible and thinking about the Bible just as God would. My interpretations are wholly God’s interpretation without reference to my locality and cultural influence. They stand above culture because they stand with God.
This conviction, however, leads to a distrust in common grace, for if God can speak purely to me without my finitude getting in the way, then God would just do it through his Word without ever needing the help of non-Christians to correct me. Or, to refocus directly on the document on social justice, I would not need cultural marxists, postmoderns, or any other kind of people or ideology to correct the way I think about justice. I would not need correcting from outside the Bible because God shows me from within the Bible.
The problem with this is the assumption that God’s truth is expressed solely through means of Christian community. Yet, God has revealed in Scripture the role of general revelation through his written law on our hearts and through the glory of creation. God even instructs his people through the actions and words of those outside the Church.
A clear example of this is when God sent the Assyrians as instruments of judgment and correction for the Israelites. God sent the pagan, idolatrous, and wicked Assyrians to correct his people. If that is a shady interpretative framework for the Old Testament for some, we should still not deny God’s sustaining grace in man’s imago dei that assures us that truth remains communicable from those outside the Church. Should we, then, close ourselves off from the possibility that there is truth to be revealed, dare I say, by cultural marxists and postmoderns about how we should correct our current forms of justice seeking?
The writers of this document have dismissed the possibility of God reminding the Church of his incessant call to love the weak and lowly, the disadvantaged and oppressed. Yet, God has, in both biblical history and Christian history, reshaped and conformed the people of God to his image through means both within and outside of the people of God. And by his grace, he will continue to do so.
In dismissing social justice as worldly, these men and women have cut themselves off from the possibility of God’s renewal of a fervor for justice in our day and age and according to the needs of our day and age. They have incorrectly believed that Christians advocating for social justice are changing its definition and separating it from God. We are not. Rather, we are advocating for the Church to take up its care for the oppressed in ways that need to adapt to our current economic, political, and social structures.
The theology held by the writers of this statement closes themselves off from any kind of righteous rebuke from God for his church in regards to truth generally, and particularly with justice. And in my estimation, this is both prideful and wrong. In their desire to stay true to God, they have fallen on their swords and denied God’s justice to express itself in caring for the systematically oppressed and underprivileged. Although saddened about their response, I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I pray for myself and those with whom I stand—that we are also not making the same error.