John MacArthur dared to say that the real answer to social injustice is proclaiming the Gospel. His statement has apparently enraged proponents of the Social Justice Movement, who seem to want white evangelicals to display perpetual penance for the racist sins of our ancestors. His insistence on maintaining a Gospel focus negates their agenda, necessitating that they depict him as a dinosaur who is woefully out of touch with how the Spirit wants to move today.
The reaction reminds me of my attitude toward my grandmother (and toward most adults) during the social upheaval of the 60s and 70s. As far as I was concerned, Gran had absolutely no concept of the problems her generation and my mother’s generation had created in the United States of America. Why couldn’t she stop criticizing the younger generation long enough to understand why we protested racial inequality? It was obvious to me that her fossilized mind lacked all capacity to understand the new perspectives sweeping our nation.
Essentially, I considered her a stupid old woman.
Now I’m the age Gran had been during the years I held her in such contempt. As I’ve grown, I’ve actually come to agree with several of her “old fashioned” ideas. And I wonder if she ever looked at my generation and remembered her own rebellion against the seemingly outdated ideas of her parents and grandparents.
MacArthur recalls the racial turbulence of the 1960s, as do I. Both he and I (30 years apart) have physically been in that Memphis hotel room where Martin Luther King Jr. spent his final hours. We remember the justifiable outrage then, and the efforts to untangle the damage caused by slavery and the Jim Crow laws. You can’t look out from the balcony of that hotel room without weeping over the senseless racism that led James Earl Ray to assassinate him.
But all the empathy in the world won’t change the truth that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to deal with the sin of racism. You can browbeat white evangelicals all you want, but doing so will only harden hearts of those who are false converts, generating additional racism. Applying human strategies to any sin problem simply doesn’t work.
MacArthur correctly understands that racism existed in the First Century, just as surely as it exists now. Jews and Gentiles despised each other. They found unity only in the Lord Jesus Christ.
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. ~~Ephesians 2:11-18 (ESV)
In 1968, John MacArthur knew that the horrible racism in the United States was no different than the racism in First Century Ephesus or the maniacal racism of Nazi Germany. Throughout history, racism has been one of many societal ills perpetrated by people who exalt their agenda over the call to obey the Gospel.
Older generations undoubtedly seem like dinosaurs, as my Gran seemed to me when I was young. But our many years have taught us that history really does repeat itself. The Gospel that brought racial reconciliation in the First Century offers racial reconciliation now, just as it will fifty years from now when this boomerang circles back again.