So What DOES Al Mohler Believe About Social Justice?

Mohler Macarthur

Albert Mohler and John MacArthur in 2014

At a recent conference at John MacArthur‘s Grace Community Church, someone asked Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist seminary president, why he did not sign MacArthur’s statement condemning “social justice” in the evangelical community.  (We covered this here and here).

Here is a taste of Samuel Smith’s reporting at the Christian Post:

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler explained why he did not sign last summer’s John MacArthur-led statement condemning evangelicals’ embrace of social justice as dangerous to the Gospel.

Mohler, an influential voice in conservative evangelicalism who frequently voices his opinions on current events through his daily podcast, took part in a panel discussion last week at the 2019 Shepherd’s Conference at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California.

During the panel discussion moderated by Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson, Mohler and other panelists on stage were asked why they didn’t sign The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel.

The statement spearheaded last year by the 79-year-old MacArthur claimed that social justice “values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

I read this entire article and I still don’t know what Mohler thinks about social justice.  He seems to have tip-toed around the issue without really saying anything. Here is a taste of Smith’s reporting:

When directly asked why he didn’t sign, Mohler explained:

“I want to be very honest. You have known me for a long time. So you know of my concerns. I am having before God trying to address those concerns the way I think best consistent with 35 years of public ministry,” Mohler said. “I was not particularly appreciative of being handed a statement.”

Mohler stressed that when it came to the statement, he had no opportunity to “offer any particular consultation or suggestion.”

“It is not pride of authorship but I am just reluctant to sign onto anything that is not creedal and confessional that doesn’t express exactly how I want to say something,” Mohler explained. “Not signing should not be interpreted as a rejection of common concern. I don’t think that is fair.”

Read the entire piece here.

Apparently the Southern Baptists are divided on this issue.

The President of the Master’s University and Seminary Speaks About His Poor Accreditation Report

Master's

Earlier today I called your attention to a Chronicle of Higher Education piece on the WASC Senior College and University Commission accreditation report on The Master’s College and Seminary, an evangelical institution run by megachurch pastor John MacArthur.  Read it here.

After a three-day study of MacArthur’s school, the reviewers hired by the accrediting agency concluded that Master’s has “a pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, bullying and uncertainty.”  Their report noted that “reports of lack of leadership ethics and accountability” were “unmatched for members of this review team.”

MacArthur responded to this negative report in an August 2018 speech to the students enrolled in the Master’s Seminary.  The Chronicle of Higher Education obtained a copy of the speech. (It is currently behind the paywall).  Here are some of themes:

  • He tells first-year students that they have arrived at The Master’s Seminary at the “best time ever.”
  • MacArthur calls this an “apostolic moment” for him and compares himself to the Apostle Paul.  He tells the student body that the attacks on him and his ministry (and by implication his university and seminary) are similar to the kind of attacks that these future ministers will face in their churches and ministries one day.
  • He takes a shot at Fuller Theological Seminary for not upholding a belief in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.  (Read about this history here).  I am not sure why this is important in this context, but he takes the shot nonetheless.
  • MacArthur says that the chair of the accreditation review committee told him a week before the team’s visit that he expected everything would go well.
  • After the visit, the chair of the committee came into MacArthur’s office and told him, “you are under attack.”
  • When the report said that Master’s had a climate of bullying, intimidation, and fear, MacArthur said he was “puzzled” by this.
  • The attacks, MacArthur claimed, were “on me personally, not the seminary.”
  • MacArthur claims that the attacks came from people “outside the university and seminary” who the committee spoke with during their study of the campus.
  • MacArthur implies that some of the people from outside the university and seminary who spoke negatively about him to the accreditation committee were former disgruntled employees.  (He also seems to say that there are disgruntled current employees as well, but I can’t make out that part of the recording).
  • There was much in the accreditation report that was untruthful and “completely unrelated to reality.”
  • MacArthur said the Master’s University and Seminary has responded to the negative assessment with a “full report.”  The accrediting agency eventually “praised” this report.  MacArthur is confident that Master’s will not lose their accreditation.
  • He compares disgruntled employees at Master’s to NFL players kneeling before the National Anthem.  Both, he says, are disrespecting their employers.
  • MacArthur says that the college needs to do more “spiritual shepherding” to get disgruntled employees in line.
  • MacArthur alludes to the possibility of a “coup” going on at Master’s.  It is led by people “with ambition.”
  • MacArthur then moves into his ongoing critique of “social justice.”
  • MacArthur does not believe that WASC is “adversarial” to Master’s.  The review committee just responded to the things they were told during their visit to campus.  MacArthur believes these things were untrue.

What is Going on at The Master’s University and Seminary?

MacArthur

John MacArthur, president of The Master’s University and Seminary

The Chronicle of Higher Education is calling the WASC Senior College and University Commission’s report on The Masters University and Seminary, a conservative evangelical Christian institution in Santa Clarita, California, “one of the most scathing accreditation reports in recent memory.”  As some of you know, the founder and president of the school is evangelical clergyman John MacArthur.  Here is a taste of the piece at The Chronicle:

Over the summer, students at Master’s University and Seminary found out their institution had been placed on probation by its accreditor. To quell the controversy, the college’s president did what he does best. He preached to them.

During an hourlong address, the Rev. John F. MacArthur warned seminarians that the accreditor’s action was the result of an attack “orchestrated, if not by any humans, by Satan himself.” The Chronicle has obtained a recording of the speech, which was delivered in late August.

MacArthur downplayed accreditors’ concerns and alluded to unnamed enemies who coveted his authority. “If somebody wants your position, somebody wants to make the decisions that you’re making, it’s not the ground troops that start those things,” he said. “It’s people with ambition.”

As he spoke, he railed against social justice and compared those who complained about the university to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. And he told students that the accreditor, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, didn’t understand places like Master’s.

Plenty of small private colleges have religious affiliations, usually through a Christian denomination. Those colleges can present a particular challenge for accrediting agencies, which must apply a broad set of secular standards to the institutions while respecting their religious missions. That challenge is raised to a whole new level at Master’s. The college is linked to a single, independent church and its pastor, MacArthur, whose strong personality and influence have benefited the college — but have now put it at risk.

In a report to the accrediting agency, a group of reviewers acknowledged that Master’s is doing some important things right. Under MacArthur, they said, the institution has engendered deep loyalty from faculty, students, and donors. At the same time, the report depicted Master’s as an accreditor’s nightmare: an insular and oppressive institution where loyalty to the president and his church has sometimes trumped both academic and financial concerns.

Officials at the accrediting agency declined to comment. But using the kind of blunt language rarely found in an accreditation report, the reviewers wrote that Master’s has “a pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, bullying and uncertainty.”

“The related reports of lack of leadership ethics and accountability that emerged was unmatched for members of this review team,” the report said. “It seems this has been part of the operation for so long that it is practiced without question.”

Master’s is unlikely to lose its accreditation, which it must maintain to be eligible for federal financial aid dollars. Very few colleges do. But the situation is an uncommonly acute test for both the accreditor and the college. How far can the accreditor push a singular college to change to meet its standards? And how much will that college be willing to change?

Read the entire piece here.

*Christianity Today* Editor Weighs-In on the John MacArthur Social Justice Statement

Good Samaritan

We blogged about MacArthur and his statement here.  Here is a taste of CT editor Mark Galli’s response to the statement:

Anyone involved in social justice ministries is subject to the loss of the transcendent. As Charles Taylor so effectively argued in A Secular Age, we live today in a time that is defined by what he calls “the immanent frame.” At the risk of oversimplifying, this means living as if this world is all there is. This world is reality; the world beyond it is a matter of personal opinion or speculation. In other ages, the world beyond this—the supernatural, the spiritual, the transcendent—was simply assumed and was clearly believed to be the most real.

This is one reason many Christians are more confident making definitive pronouncements about social concerns (the “immanent”) and hesitate to speak boldly about theological concerns (the transcendent). We live in an era dominated by the immanent framing of things, and it takes concerted effort to remember that, as important and vital as our world is, it is but a shadow of the reality beyond us and the reality we will enjoy in the kingdom of heaven.

Social justice activism by its very nature lives day to day within the immanent frame. It is concerned about the horizontal: how states and institutions treat people and how people treat one another. The Christian might be initially motivated by uniquely Christian ideals to engage in social justice efforts, as well she should, but as history shows, it doesn’t take much before the immanent frame starts to frame everything.

So what exactly is the transcendent dimension of social justice for the evangelical Christian? This is something we’ve been arguing about as a movement for some decades. But I would put it this way: The ultimate goal of social justice is the same as the ultimate goal of all our activity for Jesus—whether that be encouraging Bible reading and prayer, loving our next door neighbor, practicing business as mission, or a hundred other things—that all might come to know and love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. If our social justice doesn’t have this end in view, I believe we will soon become nothing but the Democratic or Republican parties at prayer.

Amen.  Thanks, Mark.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson and John MacArthur on “Social Justice”

MacArthur

In case you haven’t been following this, John MacArthur, a pastor of a large megachurch in California, has issued a “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.”  Here is my summary of the statement:

  • The Bible is inerrant and intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are inconsistent with biblical teaching.
  •  All human beings are created in the image of God.  As a result, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, or sex neither “negates or contributes” to an individual’s worth.
  • Christians must pursue justice. Society is responsible for correcting injustices “imposed through cultural prejudice.”  Christians cannot “live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.”
  • Obligations that do not “arise from God’s commandments” cannot be “legitimately imposed on Christians as prescriptions for righteous living.”
  • All human beings, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, or sex, are sinners in need of salvation.  This also applies to “systems” and “institutions.”  People must repent of individual sins and “one’s ethnicity” does not “establish a connection to any particular sin.”
  • The pursuit of justice is important, but only a belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including his virgin birth, atoning death, and bodily resurrection, will save one’s soul.
  • Those who embrace the Gospel are all equal before God regardless of “age, ethnicity, or sex.
  • The church should proclaim the Gospel, teach “sound doctrine,” and administer the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  It should not be involved in “political or social activism.”
  • Marriage is between a man and a woman.  Homosexuality is sin.  Singleness is a “noble” calling.  “Gay Christian” is not a “legitimate biblical category.”
  • Complementarianism.  God has “designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles.”
  • “Race” is not a “biblical category.”  It is a “social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority.” Christians should not segregate themselves into racial groups or regard “racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ.”  Any teaching that “encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression” is unbiblical.
  • Deficiencies in culture must be overcome “through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth.”
  • Racism is sin and must be condemned “by all who would honor the image of God in all people.”   “Racial sin” can “subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory.” “Systemic racism” is incompatible with evangelical belief.  Lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are not as vital “to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of the scriptures.” Such lectures “inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.”

I was actually surprised by just how much I agreed with in this statement.  (I expected to agree with none of it, but some of it is pretty good evangelical theology).

But the statement is also ignorant of the historic and current state of race-relations in the United States and the role that white men and women played in propagating racism.  It fails to show any empathy for people of color who lived through such discrimination.  (A reference to “weeping with those who weep” in the “race/ethnicity” section is little more than a throw-away line).  As one evangelical commentator noted, “this document could have been signed by the antebellum slaveowners.”

The statement often reads like an early 20th-century fundamentalist critique of the Social Gospel.  It  assumes that the pursuing “a biblical standard of righteousness” has nothing to do with engaging social sins.

Michael Gerson has commented on MacArthur’s statement in his recent Washington Post column.  Here is a taste:

By way of background, it seems that this statement was created in outraged response to another group of evangelicals — the Gospel Coalition — that held a conference on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. MacArthur clearly wants to paint the participants — including prominent pastors Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile and John Piper — as liberals at risk of heresy.

Where to start a response? First, there is the matter of judgment. MacArthur surveys the evangelical movement in 2018 — increasingly discredited by rank hypocrisy and close ties to an angry, ethno-nationalist political movement — and concludes that its main problem is too much … social justice. It is a sad case of complete spiritual blindness.

Second, there is a matter of history. Elsewhere MacArthur complains that evangelicals have a “newfound obsession” with social justice. This could only be claimed by someone who knows nothing of the evangelical story. In the 19th century, northern evangelicalism was generally viewed as inseparable from social activism. Evangelist Charles Finney insisted that “the loss of interest in benevolent enterprises” was usually evidence of a “backslidden heart.” Among these enterprises Finney listed good government, temperance reform, the abolition of slavery and relief for the poor. “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.”

But most damaging is the MacArthur statement’s position on racial matters. What could a group of largely white evangelicals, many of them southerners, possibly mean by criticizing “racial vainglory”? Is it vanity to praise the unbroken spirit of Africans in America during more than four centuries of vicious oppression, which was often blessed by elements of the Christian church? Is it vanity to recognize the redemptive role played by African-American Christianity in calling our nation to the highest ideals of its founding?

Read the rest of Gerson’s column here.

Here are few more comments:

  • Thirteen men are listed as “initial signers” of the document.  Except for MacArthur, I do not recognize any of their names.  In fact, I hesitated to even write about this story.  It is a fringe element of evangelicalism.  I was surprised Gerson devoted a column to it.
  • At the time I am writing this, nearly 7000 people have signed this statement, most of them are men.
  • Back in the 1980s, MacArthur was a champion of something called “Lordship Salvation.”  This was the idea that saving faith should be accompanied by the “saved” person making Jesus “the Lord of his or her life.”  In other words, a true convert will manifest his or her newfound salvation in good works (presumably acts of social justice would be part of these “good works”).  MacArthur was challenging the idea of so-called “cheap grace” or, more officially, “Free Grace Theology.”  This was the idea, popularized by some professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, that a person was saved by believing in the Gospel alone.  In this view, one could accept Jesus as “Savior” without making him “Lord,” or pursuing a life of discipleship.  Those who embrace Free Grace Theology believe that good works are essential to the Christian life, but only intellectual assent or belief will save one’s soul from hell.  The defenders of this view taught that Lordship Salvation, as championed by MacArthur in a book titled The Gospel According to Jesus, was a form of “salvation by works.”  So how does MacArthur reconcile his belief in “Lordship Salvation” with his rejection of social justice?  Isn’t the pursuit of social justice part of pursuing a life of discipleship?  (Wow–I haven’t thought about this stuff in a while!)