It has been said that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. I am afraid this statement is all too true in the conservative Christian culture. We are called to learn from history and to fix our mistakes, which brings me to some great concerns from what I am seeing today. I think of Henry Parsons Crowell who once said it would not be the “modernists nor the conservative who was tolerant of the modernists; but the conservative fundamentalist who was tolerant of those who were tolerant of modernists that would defeat fundamentalism.” Henry Parsons Crowell was the founder of the Quaker Oats Company and a lifelong Presbyterian who at the end of his life withdrew from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Crowell feared the reason fundamentalists were losing to modernists was simply because the fundamentalists “were tolerant toward those who were tolerant toward unbelievers.”
You may be reading this wondering what this has to do with today, but I assure you it has everything to do with today. In Christianity, there is a great battle going on and it is a battle that is very similar to the historic one of Modernists vs. Fundamentalists. This isn’t just something that I am seeing. There was a statement put together and signed by over 10,000 Christians, many of them being Christian leaders. This statement was titled “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel”, it is also known as “The Dallas Statement”. This statement has been a “shot heard around Christianity” and is the hallmark of Christianity standing against the false gospel of Social Justice (the newest incarnation of the Social Gospel). At this point it is imperative that you understand that I see the need for a movement in Christianity, I see Social Justice as a great threat to the church, and that I am all for standing against Social Justice and for Biblical truth. The issue that I have is that we seem to be racing to a defeated destination because we are unwilling to learn from the Fundamentalist movement and heed the words of Henry Parsons Crowell.
We need to understand that there is a difference in a movement and doctrine. From a doctrinal perspective fundamentalism is still very much alive today, but from a movement perspective it is dead. There are a few things that a movement needs. Firstly, a movement must recognize where the enemy is attacking (this was well executed through The Dallas Statement). Secondly, a movement needs a unified message to stand upon (this is how Christians from across the theological perspectives still claim the title of Fundamentalist). Thirdly, a movement needs a very distinct line drawn that is tied to their unified message and recognition of where the enemy is attacking. If you lose one of these elements it impacts the other two and completely stalls the movement. For instance, if you do not recognize where the enemy is attacking, you will either fight a strawman or have a battle front in disarray, both making it impossible to be unified in message or to have a distinct line drawn between you and the enemy. If you do not have a unifying message then you have nothing to combat the enemy with (so it doesn’t matter where they are attacking, they will win), and you have no substance to draw a line with. If we do not have a clear distinct line drawn between us and false teachers, it confuses the foot soldier on where the enemy is attacking and it makes it impossible to have a unifying message to defend our doctrinal position as our position itself becomes blurred. This is where the words of Crowell ring true that it would be the “conservative fundamentalist who was tolerant of those who were tolerant of modernists that would defeat fundamentalism.”
This is where I will present my great concern with what is happening in the movement that is fighting the dangers of Social Justice. So far, the biggest name pastor to speak out against Social Justice and sign the Dallas Statement is Pastor John MacArthur. John MacArthur has presented some good material on the subject and provided what should be one of the most lethal statements towards the false gospel of Social Justice. When in his initial article on Social Justice, “Social Injustice and the Gospel” he said, “Over the years, I’ve fought a number of polemical battles against ideas that threaten the gospel. This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of ‘social justice’ is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.” Let me say, I love that statement, I agree with that statement, I have quoted that statement, but John MacArthur has betrayed that statement. John MacArthur has betrayed that statement through the speakers that he is allowing at the Shepherd’s Conference. This is an annual conference that John MacArthur’s church hosts (along with Master’s Seminary, Grace to You, and a host of other MacArthur related ministries). In this conference the list of speakers has some of the usual suspects who have spoken out against Social Justice (John MacArthur, Voddie Baucham, etc.), but there are also some speakers who have positioned themselves on the other side of the issue (Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever). Galatians 5:9 has never shouted louder in my mind, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
John MacArthur has blurred the line of the movement. This makes it impossible to truly have a unifying message and it has started to confuse the foot soldiers on where the enemy is attacking. This has been made clear when he said in a Q & A with Mohler, Duncan, and Dever.
“I don’t think there is any difference theologically with where we stand we’ve navigated that together on every possible platform and every situation. How we respond to the culture around us and the pressures that come on us from the culture how we navigate those relationships that face us… you may have expressed yourself differently on the issue of social justice… look these are my friends these are men who have served Christ and have given their life to Him. (God) Has given each of you guys a formidable place in the kingdom and have had an impact on my life. I’ll fight error but I don’t fight my friends.”
I will let MacArthur speak to his own sin, “Over the years, I’ve fought a number of polemical battles against ideas that threaten the gospel. This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of ‘social justice’ is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.” If this is true (and I believe it is), why would MacArthur bring the most subtle dangerous threat to the gospel into his conference? I wish I had an answer to that question, but I am afraid if I give my thoughts on that question I will only be diving into judging John MacArthur’s motives.
I don’t have an answer as to why MacArthur has blurred the battle lines, but I do have an answer in what we need to do if we want to see the movement march forward. We need to take the words of Henry Parsons Crowell to heart and we need to stop tolerating those who are tolerating those who are teaching Social Justice. I understand this is a hard statement and it is not fun, but do we fear God or man? Do our friendships mean as much to us as gospel purity? Is your admiration or friendship of MacArthur worth the souls of those in the nursery at your church? It is doubtful that the toleration of MacArthur would impact your church tomorrow on the issue of Social Justice, but it will have a long-term affect as the stance against Social Justice is weakened and the line is further blurred.
The best thing that could happen is repentance from John MacArthur, this is what I hope and pray for. The question each of us need to ask is if we like John MacArthur more than we fear the threat of Social Justice? If Social Justice is just a small doctrinal mistake, then keep on going as you are, but if you, like MacArthur and believe Social Justice is a big deal, then don’t kill a movement by compromising its integrity.