The Best Response to John MacArthur’s Social Justice Statement image

The Best Response to John MacArthur’s Social Justice Statement

The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, launched recently by John MacArthur and others and signed by over 7,000 people (many of whom, admittedly, sound suspiciously like they were using made-up names), was always going to generate responses. Some have been good; others have not. But one response which will benefit everyone who listens to it, I am sure, is this one from Thabiti Anyabwile, on Christianity Today's "Quick to Listen" podcast. It is a very wise, charitable, clarifying and edifying conversation, and Thabiti shows again why he is such an indispensable thinker on these issues. Their discussion begins at around 7:30:

A few highlights:

1. The time and space given to definitions (social justice, intersectionality, critical race theory, etc), clarifications, and understanding the intentions of the authors of the statement, despite significant disagreements, is a wonderful model for anyone disagreeing with someone else publicly. Virtually the entire first half of the conversation is dedicated to explaining what MacArthur and others are trying to say, as charitably as possible, before any critical engagement begins.

2. Though concerned about a number of applications of the concept of intersectionality, Thabiti makes the point that in one sense, we cannot really understand the story of the Philippian slave girl without it (Acts 16). It is only if we recognise that she is a slave and a woman and demonised and exploited, and therefore disadvantaged in multiple overlapping ways, that we can understand the story, and its contrasts with (say) Timothy, or Lydia, or the jailer.

3. Thabiti rightly highlights the dangers of the “race isn’t a problem unless you make it a problem” defence, the denial of racism within evangelicalism (!), and the rhetorical sleight-of-hand that is often at work here: no real evangelical can be racist, because if they are, they are not an evangelical (which is a textbook example of the No True Scotsman fallacy).

4. There is also a helpful challenge to the assumption that right doctrine will create unity on its own, in spite of history, culture, social structures and injustices in the nation. Thabiti is clear that he agrees with most of the doctrine in the statement (the need for individual repentance, the primacy of the gospel, and so on); the problem is with the “so what.” He makes a helpful connection here between MacArthur’s position now and his (almost identical) position fifty years ago.

5. “There seems to be a selectivity on how people are invoking the primacy of the gospel.” Sometimes people will use the primacy of the gospel to deny the propriety of making a big deal out of racial reconciliation, but then be more than happy to speak out on other public and political issues (like abortion, or even election campaigns). This raises questions about whether the principle being used is actually the real reason for the statement.

6. Finally, they conclude by discussing the future of racial reconciliation (which, although clearly set in a US context, is applicable much more broadly). It begins with truth-telling, specifically about history; from there we can move to forgiveness, alongside what Thabiti calls “judicial contrition”—how we hear others tell us that we have been wrong—which is “how we move from peace-faking to peace-making”; and then we can express solidarity with one another, both privately and publicly, and persevere together.

It’s a great discussion. If you’ve been following the statement and its responses, it’s worth your time.

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