We can’t be defensive about this one

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Christian friends sharing John MacArthur’s response to what happened in Charlottesville. (The video has been shared 42 thousand+ times on Facebook and viewed 30 thousand+ times on Youtube). The question MacArthur was asked was, “What is a biblical, Christ-focused response to what’s happening in Charlottesville?”

John MacArthur gave a little speech, but he did not answer the question. I was disappointed. MacArthur has helped many Christians over the years have a better understanding of the Bible, of sin, and of grace. There are some people that think in order to care about social justice, you have to throw out the Bible (or just follow the most liberal interpretations of it); however, I think a conservative reading of scripture makes us even stronger advocates for things like racial justice. Which is why I think MacArthur totally missed the point in his answer.

In his books and sermons, John MacArthur has talked about sin as a cruel tyrant that corrupts the entire soul. He has said that “grace cannot be preached to unbelievers until the law is preached and man’s corrupt nature is exposed. It is impossible for a person to fully realize his need for God’s grace until he sees how terribly he has failed the standards of God’s Law.”

It’s human instinct to avoid hearing how we’ve failed. What MacArthur is saying is if we want to receive the gift of reconciliation to God, we have to first acknowledge we need this gift. We have to first acknowledge we’ve failed. MacArthur has argued that this is difficult for many people today to handle, because our culture teaches us to preserve our own self-esteem at all costs.

Christians who have MacArthur’s view of scripture should be quick to admit sinfulness. We should be quick to admit our own brokenness. When someone comes to us and says, “You’ve wronged me,” if we have a biblical view of ourselves and the world, we should immediately say, “I’m sorry, please tell me more. How have I wronged you? What can I do to make it right?” As Christians who have our own sinfulness as a central part of our understanding of the universe, we have absolutely no grounds for defensiveness when people tell us we have wronged them. It should be no surprise to us. In our understanding of scripture, we have wronged God, we have wronged his creation, we have wronged our neighbors… heck, we believe that even as young children we’re at odds with God’s ways and are capable of hurting God and others.

What the counter-protestors in Charlottesville were saying, and what the people starting conversations about removing statues which glorify the Confederacy are saying is :

You Have Wronged Us.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 8.15.27 AM
Source – Clergy descend on Charlottesville to resist white supremacy. That’s where we need to be.

Black Americans and their allies are saying, “White people, whether you are part of the outright white supremacist groups like the KKK that showed up in Charlottesville, or you’re the grandchild of someone who got a college education because of the history of red-lining in this community, or you’re just someone who unconsciously clutches her purse when a black person walks by, you’ve wronged us. You wronged us when you brought us over as slaves, and you are continuing to wrong us by not acknowledging the effects this racism has and not working to rectify it, you have wronged us by silencing our stories in the history books, you have wronged us by letting your unconscious bias affect our chances of receiving justice in your criminal justice system…. You have wronged us.”

And as white, conservative Christians, like MacArthur, our response should not be to dismiss this. Our response should not be to use the general depravity of man and the breakdown of the nuclear family as a way to shift the spotlight off of ourselves. Our response should not be denial. We cannot claim that protestors are not upset about white supremacy if they are literally saying the reason they are upset is because of white supremacy.

We, of all people, with our biblical worldview, should be listening.

We should be quick to listen here.

We should be slow to speak here.

We should be slow to get angry when people are telling us why they are angry at us.

Our response should be weeping. Our response should be shame. Our response should be a deep, deep awareness of our need for grace.

Christians talk a lot about racial reconciliation, about the need for unity. Christians complain that protests like this just stir up racial division. At times like this, we want to preach a nice sermon about how we’re all one in Christ, hold a prayer meeting, then move on.

But if Jesus were here, he would lock the church doors and tell us all not to come back until we white people had turned around and gone to speak with our black brothers and sisters who are angry at us. Jesus would say, “White people, this is your chance! Settle your differences quickly, while the door of reconciliation and forgiveness is still open. Otherwise that door will close, and you won’t be free until you’ve paid every last penny.”

I can understand why people who don’t know Jesus, or don’t have a conservative reading of scripture would be defensive about claims of white supremacy, and might resist the taking down of monuments that glorify the confederacy. They’re busy preserving their sense of self-righteousness.

But us Bible-thumpers who actually believe we’re all sinners? We don’t have a leg to stand on.

5 thoughts on “We can’t be defensive about this one

  1. Thank you for this! Thank you so much. It’s beautiful. This is exactly how I feel Jesus would want us to respond but I didn’t know how to explain it to other white Christians. You’ve done it here. Now I have a better way to explain it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have read your blog for a few months, and I find it to be very respectable as well as meaningful. Your words – your perspective – bring insight I would not have brought and which I find to be rare.

    On this post, you have me a bit puzzled – and that surprises me. I hope you will iron out a couple of wrinkles for me and perhaps it will read smooth then.

    First off, I wonder what MacArthur said that your post seems to take issue with. Can you link it? Did you link it and somehow I missed it?

    I will add this thought, which is likely entirely unique to me, but it is my perspective and MIGHT add something useful to the conversation.

    I don’t know much of MacA’s work. I have some familiarity, but nothing in depth. I have much awareness of him, largely because in years gone by I worked in a Christian bookstore and sold a lot of his materials. However, I never saw any of his work that I found meaningful or particularly respectable. Perhaps I should have read the next page before I quite or something, but he seems to make a big splash but little impact. I could be wrong, but I very quickly lumped him into a catch-all category in my mind where a number of “conservative” Christian leaders I have little or no interest in go to languish. I don’t run around bashing them, but I largely don’t care what they say nor spend time or money on them.

    AND still I consider myself a conservative Christian.

    You wont find the words social justice together anywhere on my blog (I don’t think). Not that I have some big problem with those words or what they represent, but I just don’t need them. They have come to represent a category of thought (and action) with a liberal flavor to them, and though there may be important reasons behind such a development, that too is of no use to me. On the other hand, as I conservatively read and follow the Bible (not that I am perfect at it), I find many – maybe most – of the issues/concerns and practices of those championing social justice to be the natural impulse.

    I am White and Southern enough to feel the sacrifice made in my community and worldview at the sight of Confederate monuments coming down. (Please hold that thought about me in your mind, because I am not likely to care enough for it to defend it in anyway.) But I am mortified at the thought that those monuments celebrate (and are intended to celebrate) and/or console passions of White privilege, power, supremacy AND whether intended or not thereby to celebrate suppression and enslavement of my black brothers and sisters. At root, that is very ethnocentric and selfish – two variations on the same dynamic, both of which are anti-Christian to the core. And I don’t need to appeal to any social justice activists or publications or sentiment to defend this statement; I can go to siting my Bible all day long (but that would hijack your post, so I wont). By the way, I don’t need to site MacA either.

    That said, your point is still plenty valid (I think). But I would like to see what MacA said which causes this reaction. I am aware that MANY conservative Christian brothers and sisters lean on him and follow his teaching. Thus, I am sure his words and input are relevant, not necessarily because of their innate value, but because of their influence – at least.

    Thank you for blogging. Your blog is important.

    God bless you.



    1. Hi! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! Hopefully I can iron some wrinkles out. I didn’t actually put a link in my blog, but you can see what he says here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm3U39lnPO0)-
      I would have to agree with you that I’m not really a fan of MacA- for various reasons, but also because his tone is quite dogmatic. But, I have several friends who would say his writings have helped them in their faith, and I don’t want to quibble with that. The reason why I mention MacA is simply because I wanted to respond to the people who are sharing his comment using the same framework that MacA himself uses in most of his writing. In his video he gives a very (I think) confusing response where he talks about general depravity and society’s lost moral conscience, the breakdown of families, lack of respect for law enforcement, and then mentions he was friends with people in the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, but what’s going on in Charlottesville has nothing to do with white supremacy. I was disappointed because I felt while he might have said a collection of things that were true, he did nothing to direct people towards what I feel is actually a Biblical response. But, because he’s a household name, he gets shared as “the Biblical response to Charlottesville” right now.

      A probably much better and simpler post could have been written about how a conservative reading of scripture leads us to be quick to listen and admit fault, love our neighbours, care for those oppressed etc. but since the MacA video is what prompted these thoughts I included him. But perhaps it all just muddies the waters! 😉

      I agree that labels can be unhelpful (whether it’s “conservative” or “social justice” or whatever) because they mean so many different things to different people. And sometimes, perhaps not using a label but talking about the idea behind the label is better, because it allows people to engage with the content of the idea without putting their defenses up (as something like “social justice” might do). On the flip side, if you’ve ever read Generous Justice by Tim Keller, he explains the best translation of two Hebrew words that show up together in scripture quite often (tzadeqah and mishpat, justice & righteousness) that phrase is best translated “social justice”. So that is why I use it, and hope that people who are put off by it will read long enough to see what I mean by it. 🙂
      I appreciate what you shared about monuments coming down. It is something I have seen in S.Africa as well (they re-named lots of roads and added new monuments, renamed holidays etc after apartheid ended), and for many people there was a double layer of loss- people feeling like some part of general history was maybe being recast in a way that made them uncomfortable, but also the sense of, “Hey, that street has always been named that, and I grew up on that street and played in that park and now it’s something different.” I really appreciated listening to the Mayor of New Orleans talk about why they were removing some statues there- I think you would really appreciate it if you haven’t heard it already (https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/national/full-speech-mitch-landrieu-addresses-removal-of-confederate-statues/2017/05/31/cbc3b3a2-4618-11e7-8de1-cec59a9bf4b1_video.html) .

      Thanks for engaging with my blog, and it’s always encouraging to meet fellow followers of Jesus who are thinking about these ideas and working through them as well!
      Thanks for the encouragement! – Steph


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