Why I Cannot and Will Not Sign the “Social Justice and the Gospel Statement” (by Ryan Burton King)

This article originally appeared at Ryan Burton King’s website and is crossposted here with permission. We’re thankful for Ryan’s thorough and strong response to the statement released yesterday. 

Throughout history, Christians have banded together to examine and respond to various crises, real or perceived. Creeds from the days of the Church Fathers, and confessions from the time of the Reformation are joined by petitions and tracts from the Puritan era into our own, local church confessions, associational, conventional, and denominational resolutions, and parachurch statements from a variety of pastors, scholars, and concerned parties: the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood(1987), and the Nashville Statement among the main ones representing conservative evangelical Christian belief derived from the pages of Scripture. Now a new statement is live and being circulated for signatures, but this is one that I would rather history forgot.

Purporting to address an alleged shift in evangelical circles away from the biblical gospel towards a false social gospel, the new Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is driven by people I would like to believe are well-meaning but frankly not at all “getting” what those whom it primarily addresses are saying. That is at best. At worst, it represents a toxic agenda to discredit and undermine godly men and women crying out for biblical social justice, national and ecclesiastical repentance, and meaningful reconciliation. I certainly hope that this statement will not become a litmus test for orthodoxy, as if those who don’t sign it should be written off as “not sound”. If so the people implicated would include (barring the unlikely event one of them were to sign): Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, H. B. Charles, Charlie Dates, Ligon Duncan, Mika Edmondson, Carl and Karen Ellis, Steve Gaines, Philip and Jasmine Holmes, Eric Mason, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Trillia Newbell, Preston and Jackie Hill Perry, John Piper, David Platt, Kevin Smith, Robert Smith, Walter Strickland, Ralph Douglas West, and so on and so forth. These are names of people off the top of my head listed alphabetically, all of whom have spoken out on abiding racial sin in America and its churches this year and many previous years. In their number are the very people the statement erroneously has in view as in some way abandoning the gospel for a social gospel. An examination of their ministries, their sermons, writings, music, and so forth should decisively demonstrate their Christo-centric, gospel ministries and serve as the context within which, the backdrop against which, the lens through which their (in my estimation very helpful and necessary) contributions should be understood.

Others will doubtless speak out on various part of the statement that concern them – and I may be inclined to later add their contributions as a post-script at the bottom of this post. For now though, here are some by no means exhaustive points on my behalf. I wrote and sent these by email several weeks ago, after receiving a draft of the statement with the request that I sign. I could not in good conscience sign then, and despite areas where the statement has been tweaked and in one instance substantially revised (revisions that I have taken into account to amend my response), I will not now. The statement remains in my view a cynical, misguided document that has been pitched by the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way, and with wrong ideas and understandings in the background.

A response to points in the Social Justice and Gospel statement

1. We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching.

True enough, but these terms have been weaponised against godly men and women who are simply seeking justice and reconciliation. The godly men that the preamble says “we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides.”

3. We affirm that societies at times must establish laws that correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.

I am glad to hear it, but… establishing laws is not enough. Implementing those laws and their implications across the states of the nation and its structures and systems is very important. Unfortunately some of the people involved in this statement have indicated their belief that America’s systemic racism problem ended in 1968 as though the mere introduction of a law is enough to undo centuries of white against black racial prejudice. Also, when people discuss ways in which existing laws ought to be implemented and the damage of the past undone, some of the people involved in this statement have leapt to exclaim “Cultural Marxism!”, “Critical Race Theory!”, “All Lives Matter!” and similar.

We deny that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture. We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standards of righteousness.

I agree. The problem again is how in practice some people who are here saying we should not impose or operate on merely socially constructed standards of justice have spoken against biblically derived efforts to reform justice at a social level. If their fire were reserved for mainstream theologically liberal churches in America I would have less of an issue, but the context of this statement is, as made clear in the preamble, faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides who are and been for some time standing up and speaking out. They are finally being noticed, leading especially months of unfair critique of the MLK50 conference and a couple of messages at T4G. At these conferences, theologically conservative brothers from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds prophetically and practically addressed one of the most abiding sins of the nation and how for centuries it has infected churches across the USA. They did not present “merely socially constructed standards of justice”, but stood on the basis of the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ. They were written off and decried, again by some of the very people involved in this statement.

4. We affirm that God’s law, as summarized in the ten commandments, more succinctly summarized in the two great commandments, and manifested in Jesus Christ, is the only standard of unchanging righteousness. Violation of that law is what constitutes sin.

Yes, but the problem with reducing God’s law to its summaries is it misses the sermons. The prophets expounded the Law, particularly concerned with addressing the injustices that permeated their and other societies. Jesus expounded the Law, exposing the injustice run riot in the power structures and people of the Jewish nation. Historically, and doubtless still in the present, racists (especially of the white supremacist or nationalist variety) have taken comfort that there is no “Thou shalt not enslave/segregate/hate/mistreat/needlessly offend black people” in the Ten Commandments. They have also distorted Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbour” : as one Southern Sunday School teacher was recently quoted in the press as saying, he meant “Love your American neighbour.” If the summaries were sufficient, we wouldn’t have all of the writings around them, and we wouldn’t need to preach expositions of them.

We deny that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living. We further deny the legitimacy of any charge of sin or necessity of repentance that does not arise from a violation of God’s commandments.

I fear slave-holders, segregationists, white supremacists and white nationalists of today could say exactly the same, again because they reduced/reduce the law to its summaries and think “I’m not a murderer” all while hating their brothers and treating them angrily for the colour of their skin. The last sentence sounds good but is a sentiment that has been weaponised against brothers biblically seeking justice and reconciliation in our society. The Calvinists among the signatories will have no problem affirming that people are totally/radically depraved, with every aspect of their being somehow tainted by sin and that from birth we have a nature inclined to sin. They would say that we are sinners not because we sin but we sin because we are sinners, and have been since birth, no commandment needing to have been clearly broken on our part. And yet here is a phrase that has been and doubtless will still be used to shelter people from the charges that their sinful nature is shown in prejudiced, xenophobic, and racist perceptions, attitudes, and actions. A black man says “I’m offended by the Confederate flag, and what it represents” and the response is “There’s nothing sinful about flying a flag”, ignoring a host of heart, congregational, pastoral, personal, and missional issues derived from Scripture. The furore at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in 2016 is a case in point. A resolution against the Confederate flag was finally (after embarrassing and prolonged deliberations) passed, to be met with online hot takes from professing Christian people defending the flag as though it were the gospel. Why? They heard charges made and didn’t believe they arised from a violation of God’s commandments so felt justified in their foolishness.

5. All human relationships, systems, and institutions have been affected by sin.

I am pleased to hear they believe this. The language of many of the critics of the racial reconciliation movement and social justice has sometimes denied this. Indeed, I have heard people say “Individuals are sinful/racist, not systems”. They make such assertions based on sound bites from the ministries of some of the signatories of this document.

We deny that, other than the previously stated connection to Adam, any person is morally culpable for another person’s sin.

Agreed, people are not morally culpable for another person’s sin but due to the federal relationship of all humans with one another in Adam, and the resulting collective, societal, structural link we have one with another what one person is morally culpable for may have meaningful consequences for others. For example, when the British government abolished slavery in 1833, they used £20 million pounds, 40% of the national budget, to buy the freedom of slaves throughout the empire (of course, this money went to the slave-holders not to the slaves which exhibits sinful mankind’s unflagging ability to include injustice in the exercise of justice). British tax-payers only stopped paying off the debts incurred by this transaction in 2015.

Although families, groups, and nations can collectively sin, and cultures can be predisposed to particular sins

I am pleased they admit this. I have been told by devotees of James White that there is no collective sin, only individual sin. It beggars belief, as it is so contrary to Scripture!

subsequent generations share the collective guilt of their ancestors only if they approve and embrace (or attempt to justify) those sins. Before God each person must repent and confess his or her own sins in order to receive forgiveness. We further deny that one’s ethnicity establishes any necessary connection to any particular sin.

Yes, so long as such a thing as collective guilt is granted (again, it has been denied quite forcefully to me) and the insidious, subtle ways in which people approve, embrace, and attempt to justify those sins is recognised, owned, and repented of (without the disrespect, disingenuity, deflection, and at times out right dishonesty of some of social justice’s critics represented here). I would rather people veer away from “that’s not my sin problem” toward more invasive self-examination and radical repentance.

6. This also means that implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel.

I get what is being said here, but Jesus is the good news, and in Jesus is righteousness, purity, faithfulness, love and so forth. A critical part of the gospel missing from their brief explanation is union with Christ and the work of the Spirit to make us like Christ – if these things are not present then we are not saved and we do not possess good news. While the word “saved” is used, the justification, sanctification, and glorification aspects of this crucial gospel word are not at all unpacked and it would seem that as with the law earlier, the understanding of gospel is unhelpfully reductionist – focussed simply on salvation “from” the bad works of sin and their consequences but no reference regarding salvation “to” the good works of Christ as per Ephesians 2:10. Good works are not definitional of the gospel, but they are demonstrable of the gospel, and this is the last thing we need to be watering down now.

8. We affirm that when the primacy of the gospel is maintained that this often has a positive effect on the culture in which various societal ills are mollified.

Yes and no. Read any history book. The primacy of the gospel was maintained in theory by the Reformers, but not in practice: the at times violent and murderous persecution of peaceful baptistic believers they commonly but falsely called Anabaptists is a case in point. The primacy of the gospel was maintained in theory by the Puritans, many of whom were led astray into wickedly enslaving black men and women. The primacy of the gospel was in theory maintained across Bible-belt Southern USA where people died fighting to keep their slaves, and spent a century oppressing and segregating them once freed. I believe the gospel, I am a follower of Jesus Christ, not an atheist sceptic but what on Earth was that all about? And please do not with the Southern gentleman of the 1850s argue that slavery was a more positive life for the slaves than what they would have had otherwise. Tragically today, people who do believe in the primacy of the gospel and are applying its implications to real everyday life are being maligned as embracing a false social gospel, while the real enemies (including real adherents to the social gospel) go ignored.

We deny that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.

Agreed, but it may very well be an integral component of the ministry of love and compassion given to the church. My Bible does not only tell me of a “Great Commission”, but a “Great Commandment”, and acting like our focus on the former can excuse our horrific inattention to the latter would doubtless raise Christ’s righteous indignation. The scribes and Pharisees preached the Law, but they didn’t have love for their fellow man. “Woe to you”, Jesus cried.

The draft I first received continued:

Believers can and should utilize the means, such as voting, that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, but we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ.

My response to this:

Nor is not voting, or voting differently evidence of lack of saving faith, as has been insinuated and even stated by some in the circles represented by this statement. Also, voting is not the only means to have some effect on the laws of a democratic society. Marching, picketing, sit-ins, and so forth are all valid as well in the fight against injustice in an allegedly free society (a far cry from imperial Rome) and not sinfully angry, counter-gospel behaviours as claimed by people particularly in MacArthur’s circle in recent days. The statement has been amended to say:

Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head.

I suppose the addition of the important word “central” toward the end leaves room for scenarios like when MacArthur used his platform to talk about why he was not voting for Trump when in fact, equivocal semantics aside, he was.
We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts. 
No one that I have read or listened to is saying that they do. But they are saying laws and regulations need to be made and enforced anyway, because that is how God has designed things.

9. We deny that the charge of heresy can legitimately be brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel is heresy.

Heresy is an overused word in some circles. But it is not overused with reference to racism and its underpinnings. This really is where the mask of this statement well and truly falls off, and once again we see the ugly monster of self-righteous, unconfessional, nonrepentant deflection. Racism is not only hateful – it is heretical. It is not only bigotry – it is blasphemy. Ligon Duncan has said it well: “Anti-racism is not the Gospel, but the Gospel is anti-racism, and racism is anti-Gospel, hence heresy of the deepest dye” (Defending the Faith; Denying the Image – 19th Century AmericanConfessional Calvinism in Faithfulness and Failure). Perhaps read literature that further demonstrates this – I would also recommend “The Heresy of Racial Superiority: Confronting the Past and Confronting the Truth” by Dr. Albert Mohler and “Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet”, a spiritual/theological biography by D. H. Dilbeck as introductions to this quite biblical idea. Really I cannot fathom why anyone would deny the heresy of this wickedness, which is precisely the subtext going on here.

10-11 are on Sexuality and Marriage, and Complementarianism

I agree with the points made but this is a bizarre conflation of racial reconciliation and biblical pursuit of social justice being promoted in Christian circles with a wholly separate and quite dangerous cultural shift on matters of human sexuality. Matters of skin and sin are totally separate and the insertion of an important but bit of a pet theme for conservative evangelicals into a document critiquing the social justice and racial reconciliation movement in the church shows that the point has been completely missed. What hath MLK50 to do with Revoice? My black brothers and sisters would look at them and for the most part probably say “Nothing.”

12. We deny that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity with Christ.

Indeed, but there are as stated different ethnic groups and nationalities. In the US context where everyone’s heritage – except First Nations’ – involve people who either left their nation or were stolen from it, colour has historically till today been more important than national origin. Unfortunately, at least some of those involved in this statement have used the idea stated to support the privileged false narrative of people who may suffer but not for the colour of their skin: the idea of “colour-blindness”. Furthermore, they have unhelpfully critiqued the messages of faithful brothers who insist that Sunday morning still hosts “the most segregated hour in America”, and have been quite vocal in arguing against the importance and pursuit of biblically multi-ethnic churches.

We deny that any divisions between people groups (including everything from an attitude of superiority to a spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed.

Indeed, but sadly the focus in white majority circles is on criticising the perceived resentment of black brothers and sisters, instead of rooting out the causes of that resentment – attitudes of white superiority in church and state.

The original draft went on to read:

We further reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as entitled victims of oppression. We further deny that one person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

To which I replied:

But what if they have been oppressed? What if they are victims? What if there is a wealth of statistical, anecdotal, experiential, photographic, and recorded evidence to prove it? When white men like Matt Chandler and David Platt tried to sprinkle such evidence into recent sermons, they were lambasted as more like Marx than Moses, followers of James Cone not Jesus Christ. I wonder if this is the first confessional example of gaslighting (look it up)? May God have mercy!

Whether in response to my protestations or not, this section has been reworked to appear much more even handed:

We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

Better, perhaps, but based on the writings and clear agenda of some of the initial signatories, I fear the draft version more accurately represents the spirit of the document, and certainly the way it will be used. Also, better is not best. Red scare paranoia seems to have blinded people to the brutal oppressor/oppressed reality of America’s racial history and its ripple waves – the aftershocks of a mere few decades ago that continue to have serious implications for the present.

14. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

True enough, working with the broad definition of racism that encapsulates all ethnically-oriented prejudice. Problem is, the authors here don’t live in “all cultures”, making such a statement far too easy to use as a deflective device against honest evaluation of racism’s foremost expression in their culture. This is the equivalent of an “Everyone’s a sinner, we all fall short” response when the pastor calls out a particular sin on Sunday morning. Sadly in their own number are people who deny or at best sit on the fence with regard to the real racial shift in the nation – not as many paranoidly fear towards black nationalism but white nationalism and indeed supremacy.

This leads into a series of denials that have mercifully been reworked. To provide context for my misgivings with the document as it is, I must include the original.

We deny that today’s evangelicals as a group have failed to condemn partiality and prejudice toward various ethnicities; much less have they callously and collectively practiced those sins. We deny that systemic racism is endemic in evangelical churches.

For people who normally have tended away from collectivism to individualism, how convenient that they can now look at evangelicals “as a group”, as though they can take in the height, width, and depth of professed evangelicals and accurately make an informed statement. It’s also interesting from people who have made highlighting unregenerate church membership and unrepentant but tolerated sin in churches a major theme in ministry. That may be beside the point though… Is it enough to condemn once, or should we not ever be condemning partiality and prejudice as people drift, as new generations are born, as blowing cultural winds threaten to reverse or accelerate for the worse? And if endemic, systemic racism is not a problem, why is Sunday morning still scene to the most segregated hour in America? Why are pastoral staffs, seminary professors, conference speakers, committees, and so forth disproportionately white in environments that are far more diverse? Why, when a black man is invited to preach in “white spaces”, has it often tended to be one of two people – leaving some of the black brothers and sisters I serve with the impression that there aren’t many sound black preachers? Why has Africa been scrubbed from our ecclesiastical historical memory? As though there were no Simon of Cyrene and his sons, no Ethiopian eunuch, no Simon the black man in leadership at Antioch – where the disciples were first called Christians! Why does nobody know pre-Arab invasion North Africa was a stronghold of Christianity, that Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, and plenty others were African men? That Luther was drawn to the Ethiopian church, and inspired by a black man – Michael the Deacon? I could go on, but I wonder if anyone is listening, because godlier, better-known men than me have said these things and so much more only to be railed against. Those who want to learn more can watch the MLK50 conference for a start.

This has wisely been scrapped. In its place is

We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another.

It should, though, be noted that I saw who signed the statement with the initial, highly problematic remarks intact. They know who they are, and my response stands as testimony against any lingering heart-agreement with the draft.

And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture; historically such an inversion of priorities has tended to lead to departures from the gospel.

It has been common to describe any sermon or biblical address with practical application to America’s racial ills as a “lecture”, a word most often said charged with negative meaning. In any case, none of the people who have been most targeted by some of those involved in this statement are replacing preaching with lectures or evangelism with activism. They are, in light of so much biblical teaching, seeking to redress the balance from preaching and telling the needy and oppressed “be warmed and filled”, to preaching and giving the needy the compassion and help they require. This does not lead to a departure from the gospel (examine the lives and ministries of William Carey and Charles Spurgeon for example) but leads to a demonstration of gospel-transformed love in the life of the church that further adorns the gospel tree with branches laden with good fruit.

Reading this statement was a bit of a sad experience for me. The addendum also. Why?  A few reasons.
It links this quite problematic statement with two other imperfect but good statements, Danvers and Nashville, that speak to real issues of our time and churches. I hope putting this statement alongside those statements will not be used to discredit the biblical truths therein. Sadly I think it is more likely that Danvers and Nashville will be seen to give this statement credibility, and the real losers here will not be these statements and what they represent, but our black brothers and sisters and their allies in the fight for racial reconciliation – once again set back by the white majority culture’s denial and deflection.
Then I read the initial and early signatories. Some of them I know. Some of them I consider friends. One of them I have known since I was three years old, went to the same church with, and was shaped in my approach to preaching in ways I probably do not fully appreciate or realise. A reminder to me, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
Others I am not as fond of – initial signatories include

  • the man who recently disparaged what he called “the angry civil rights movement” of the 1960s
  • the apologist who has spent absurd amounts of time critiquing what he perceives to be mission drift by social justice advocates not at all seeing the irony in his own mission drift
  • the entrepreneur  and conservative social activist who ranted to me about an Islamic invasion of London engineered by George Soros, lectured me on my naivety in have a gospel-centred compassionate approach to Muslim refugees, and when asked when he last shared the gospel with a Muslim told me about a conversation he had with a cab driver about Donald Trump. While he was busy writing these things to me, I was busy actually doing real evangelism on the street and met a Muslim refugee who has since trusted Christ, been baptised, and is a faithful member of the church.

I do not know what the critics of social justice want – surely not social injustice? I do not understand why Christians would push back against those of us who long for racial reconciliation in America’s fractured society and churches – would they rather persist in racial division? Why, at a time when

  • nationally and globally, alt-Right to far-Right, white nationalist to white supremacist movements are on the rise
  • pastors are still getting fired for trying to reach black communities
  • churches are being disfellowshipped from associations and conventions for congregation-wide anti-black racism
  • black brothers and sisters are saying they are not so sure reconciliation with white brothers and sisters is practically possible since they often don’t feel welcomed and loved
  • Those evangelicals who voted in the presidential election did so overwhelmingly for the most all-around unpleasant and distasteful president in America’s modern history, who routinely  and crassly denigrates human life, especially that of foreigners
  • the list could go on…

Why, given the above, is this the statement that people think we need? Great damage is being done. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. May God have mercy!

Though I’m tired – and don’t intend to comment on this matter endlessly – God helping me I will continue to seek the peace of my city, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God. With the Spirit’s help I will continue to listen and continue to learn, so that my heart will not grow hard and cold to those who suffer, and I will seek to order my life by both the great commandment and the great commission, leading my church to do likewise till I am disabled, die, or Christ comes again.

PS: For anyone still wondering what social justice is, exactly, Joe Carter’s article at TGC is probably the best summary I’ve seen: The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About Social Justice. Also, a must read from Carl Ellis Jr.: Biblical Righteousness Is a Four-Paned Window.

 


Ryan Burton King is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church Wood Green (gracebaptistchurch.org.uk), team-leader of Grace Baptists in Europe, Central District Secretary – Association of Grace Baptist Churches SE, and local community worker. You can connect with Ryan on Facebook (ryanburton.king) or Twitter (@RyanBurtonKing).

The Truths that Dr. MacArthur’s Social Justice Series Won’t Change – Part 2 (by Terrence Jones)

This article was originally posted at Terrence Jones’ blog, Live for Him or Die Trying.

Please Forgive Me

Let me take a moment to ask forgiveness for a statement that I cannot verify. In my first post I said, “No matter how they try to change the subject…” It infers that the timing of the social justice series is a diversion from the WASC report. It’s an unnecessary and unverifiable leap. I wish I had never used that phrase. It has caused some to dismiss the entire post, which is unfortunate. I ask forgiveness from Dr. MacArthur, Grace to You, and all others who may have been offended by that assertion.

Grateful, But Wrestling Heart

How do I even begin to summarize the impact TMUS has had on my life. I remember when Dr. MacArthur was asked at a Q&A, “What is the one thing you want students to have when they leave?” Without hesitation the answer was, “I want [the students] to believe the Bible is true and can be trusted.” I do believe that with all my heart! Mission accomplished! I will never forget the humility of Dr. Irv Busenitz, the prayer life of Dr. Jim Rosscup, the servant-hood of Marcia Griffin, the empathy of Ray Mehringer when any student faced a trial, the joy of Dana Waller, the preaching and pastoral wisdom of Dr. Alex Montoya, the vision and love of Dr. Mark Tatlock, the winsome leadership of Hollie Jackson, the friendship, discipleship, and work ethic of Dr. Paul Felix. Space does not permit me to name everyone, but I’m blessed to have met them.

Yet if you have read Part 1, you know that cloaked within these many positives were some undeniable negatives. It was quite the juxtaposition. It was like two worlds colliding. One world gave me life and hope. The other caused myself and others to doubt who we were, to question helpful things we learned before seminary, our gifts, and the validity/relevance of the community from which we came and were determined to one day return. If these sentences make you tired, imagine navigating it. The storm raged between these worlds with intensity in the areas of placement, preaching, and worship.

You Can Come, But We Can’t Place You

Placement is a unique hallmark of The Master’s Seminary. Not only do they train you to be a pastor, they also serve as a bridge between graduates and churches/ministries around the world. Churches can upload their information and available positions, while students can upload their résumé as they near graduation. When I was a student, the seminary boasted of having a 90% placement rate. This meant that within 6 months of graduating a student could expect to find a staff position within a church/ministry somewhere or enroll in another degree program. What wasn’t discussed with African American students was that we were a part of the 10% that could not be placed in a ministry position. I put my head together with faculty and admissions staff members to figure out the numbers. We determined that by the time I graduated in 2011 the school had only facilitated the placement of approximately 3 African American students in 25 years. According to people connected to TMS since 2011, not much has changed.

The rationale given to me as to why this problem existed was, “black churches don’t want sound doctrine.” What??? Black people do not have a monopoly on bad theology. I can think of several heretics of different ethnicities. Furthermore, I have preached theologically sound and convicting sermons in a variety of predominantly African American settings from Georgia to California since 2005. Not once have they rejected what “Thus saith the Lord.” On the contrary, they were drawn towards God’s word. Might I suggest that this is not a new phenomena. There have been people of African descent since long before I was born who have craved the word of God.

I relentlessly recruited potential minority students while enrolled. In an attempt to help draw them, I once traveled on behalf of TMS to a conference where Dr. MacArthur was preaching to an audience that was largely African American. This was in spite of the fact that I didn’t even work for admissions. When I pushed for more placement solutions, our admissions department started telling African American students that there was little hope of them being placed through the current system into a ministry position upon graduation. On initial visits my recruits would hear, “You can come, but we can’t place you.” I cringed every time I heard it.

“You can come, but we can’t place you” is not a solution. I appreciate the honesty. It was certainly better than finding out later. However, what should have happened were meetings, strategies and measurable action steps to give African American brothers the same fighting chance as other students. If color doesn’t matter, why were there only a couple of placements of African American students in 25 years, while the rest of the student body enjoyed a much higher placement rate?

When I was a student, this was the perfect time for an Acts 6:1-7 type of moment. A 25-year-old social concern of fellow students and brothers in Christ had been identified. How beautiful it would have been if our seminary would have appointed a group of men with good character who were connected with the culture (i.e. the men chosen in Acts 6 all had Greek names signifying their connectivity with the neglected Hellenistic widows) and empowered them to remedy a very fixable problem, as the school continued its focus with their primary mission of “training men as if lives depend on it.” Others may interpret this passage differently. However, it’s not about redistribution or even provision, but signifies impartial inclusion into the Covenant community and membership of God’s household (Eph 2:11-22).

Does the placement disparity speak to the quality of African American students who graduated from TMS? Certainly not! Were we not equally deserving of ministry opportunities based on performance alone? Of course we were qualified! The reality was the color of my skin meant three things. First, my school had no strategy to help me obtain a ministry position to be the pastor I was trained to be. We were like soldiers with no beach front to attack. We were like trained Tuskegee Airmen fighter pilots with no one willing to trust that we could lead them into battle. Secondly, none of the churches calling the school were looking for a person with my skin color. This has to be the case when African Americans I recruited were told to “come, but we can’t place you” before they ever took a class. Thirdly, African American churches were not calling TMS looking for pastors either. I can give several thoughts as to why that is the case, at a later time.

Jesus is my résumé

Lest I be accused of whining again over a lack of ministry opportunities, let me state my strange personal conviction. I didn’t attend TMS with future employment in mind. I personally think résumés for ministry are unnecessary. The lives God has touched through me are my letter and I believe the gifts God gives will make room for me. If those two things cannot convince a ministry that I’m the person they are looking for, then I’m not their guy. However, many students eagerly anticipated a system that would facilitate future opportunities. That’s why the placement system was created. It was to be a blessing to students and to churches. I simply believe that blessing should also extend to African Americans, and up to this point it hasn’t happened. I offered several ideas to help change this reality, but they weren’t taken seriously. Unfortunately, if expressing concerns is perceived as playing the victim card by the highest level of leadership, which Dr. MacArthur says here, then there isn’t room for real improvements.

Many have accused me of making too big a deal of skin color. Most of them know full well that the average (I hate to even use the terms) predominantly “white church” would not seriously consider my application for a senior pastor position as soon as they see my family photo. Nor would the average “black church” consider the application of a white brother. Similarly the English speaking “Asian churches” often desire a pastor with their specific heritage. We fail to realize that while we desire to convince others and ourselves that the church operates without seeing color, the facts prove otherwise. Pause, and consider this article from a very credible author. In the movie “Remember the Titans” there is a scene where Coach Boone is given Coach Yoast’s head coach position. Boone tries to convince coach Yoast to come work under him by saying “the best player will play! Color won’t matter!” However, coach Yoast looks at coach Boone and replies, “from the looks of things I’d say it’s about the only thing that does.” I wish churches in diverse locations were diverse but they are not. I’m hopeful we will apply the gospel better in the near future.

Concluding Thoughts

I promise to address the topics of preaching and worship at the beginning of the next post. If my words open wounds due to the things you have endured, know that I speak up with you in my heart (Prov. 31:8-9). I challenge you not to become bitter in your approach to people who don’t get it. God hears the cries of the voiceless and he fights for us (Isa 10:1-3, 30:12-13; Psa 146:7-9). Go ahead and be all God desires you to be. The world needs you. If you have read my posts and feel convicted and heartbroken over the things described, do not be discouraged to the point of despair. Even if you have facilitated the continuation of such activities knowingly or unknowingly, your listening ear and brokenness give me great hope. Become a learner and an even more attentive listener. God’s grace is sufficient for you. I certainly hold no animosity towards you. Speak up graciously where you are and insist on change. Insist because God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39). If my words upset you or throw you into fits of anger and frustration, know that my eyes are focused on the real enemy, Satan himself (Eph 6:10-20). I graciously ask you to open your eyes and reconsider. Christ died to reconcile us to God and each other (Eph 2:11-22). Christ died that we would be one as He and His Father are one (John 17). What’s the hold up?

 

 


Terrence Jones is the pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park in Montgomery, Alabama. Originally from Norman Park, GA, he attended Tuskegee University on a football scholarship and The Master’s Seminary (M.Div. 2011). Terrance is married to Thais and they are the proud parents of 6 children. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, SJW? (by Casey McCall)

This article was originally posted at Prince on Preaching, the website of Dr. David Prince, and was written by Casey McCall, pastor of Ashland Oldham County in Buckner, KY.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) is rightly known today for his preaching. The pioneer mega-church pastor attracted weekly crowds numbering in the thousands to his Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England. His sermons were distributed all over the world with an estimated 100 million copies being sold by the time of his death. By all accounts, Spurgeon’s ministry stands as one of the most numerically fruitful in documented history. He reached thousands, and he did so without compromising his faithfulness to preaching the whole counsel of God as the 63 published volumes of his sermons bear witness.

However, we would be mistaken to assume that this “soul-winner” focused exclusively on winning souls. He did not, as so many do, draw a sharp line of separation between the important work of evangelism and attention to the social injustices of his day. While he most certainly believed that the primary purpose of his preaching was to declare the gracious salvation that can be found only in Christ Jesus, he also understood that the gospel of Christ— the very gospel that eternally saves souls—comes with temporal social implications. Spurgeon believed that followers of Christ were obligated to “be on the side of peace and of justice…on the side of everything that is according to the mind of God, and according to the law of love.” 1

Spurgeon explained,

I feel that the best way to lift up the lost and degraded from the horrible pit and the miry clay, in a spiritual sense, is to preach to them Jesus Christ and Him crucified; but this need not prevent me from using all measures possible to promote social reform; and I firmly believe that lectures upon useful and scientific subjects, in which a lecturer is able to throw out hints about dress, cookery, children, cleanliness, economy, temperance, and the duties of the household, or to exclaim against the tally system, the pot-house, begging, and puffery, may be very useful.”2

Spurgeon’s championing of social justice causes can certainly be seen in his sermons, but we see it most clearly in his personal life. Here is a man who powerfully practiced what he preached. Here is a hero who, despite pastoring a mega-church, preaching several times per week, and publishing hundreds of books, found the time and energy to support dozens of ministries whose purpose was to alleviate suffering in a cultural context where thousands of people were suffering. Spurgeon personally established and funded orphanages, a college to train the poor for Christian ministry, a book distribution society for London’s working class, and worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty. He also found time to campaign against what he perceived to be one of the grossest injustices in history: human slavery.

Slavery had been abolished in England since 1833, but it was still going strong in America in Spurgeon’s day, thanks largely to slave-holding Christians defending the wicked institution through deplorable methods of biblical interpretation. Spurgeon saw this as a travesty and made it known early on in a sermon called “Separating the Precious from the Vile” (1860):

By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.3

This theme of boldly speaking out against the wicked institution of racism-fueled slavery continued throughout Spurgeon’s ministry and predictably won him many enemies, particularly among fellow Baptists “across the pond” in America. As a matter of fact, Spurgeon’s courageous opposition to this injustice led to slanderous attacks on his character, book burnings of Spurgeon’s works, and even death threats.4 Lewis A. Drummond concludes, “Almost unparalleled in church history, the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon epitomized the perfect blending of evangelistic fervency and deep social concern. . . .There seemed to be no end to the variety of social ministries the Metropolitan Tabernacle undertook.”5

We live in an age when many theologically-minded brothers and sisters justify ignoring social injustices in the name of focusing on evangelism. Spurgeon heroically models for us that it’s not a matter of either/or, but both/and. The gospel calls us out of darkness and into the light of Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. As we continue to tell sinners that they can find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, may we follow Spurgeon’s lead in opposing injustice, unrighteousness, and sin wherever we find it. God calls his people to “seek the welfare of the city” where we dwell (Jer. 29:7). Spurgeon, commenting on this passage, says, “You are part and parcel of this nation, for you share in its protection and privileges, and it is yours as Christian men to feel that you are bound in return to do all you can to promote truth and righteousness.”6

Was Spurgeon a social justice warrior (SJW)? It depends on who is defining the term as it has become little more than a political slur. He was most certainly a gospel warrior who believed the gospel had social implications. He asserted, “Because we fear God, and desire his glory, we must be political—it is a part of our piety to be so”7 and “It is part of my religion to desire justice and freedom for all.”8

 


 

  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 25 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1972), 391.
  2. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, C. H. (1899). C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1856-1878, Vol. 3 (Cincinnati; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1899), 53.
  3. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 155.
  4. This reaction is documented well by Christian T. George, The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2016), xvii-xxiv.
  5. Lewis A. Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992), 398,438.
  6. Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis,” 391.
  7. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1878–1892, Vol. 4, 132.
  8. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1873 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 255.

 

Casey McCall is Lead Pastor of Ashland Oldham County, located in Buckner, KY.

The Truths that Dr. MacArthur’s Social Justice Series Won’t Change (by Terrance Jones)

This article was originally posted at Terrance Jones’ blog, Live for Him or Die Trying.

I’m far from perfect. I have made many mistakes in my life, both before and after Christ. If perfection is the requirement to sound an alarm then you should stop reading now. I have not met that standard. I stand only because of the grace of God and the perfect record of the spotless lamb, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins (past, present and future).

I also want to affirm that I will never forget my time at The Master’s Seminary. The things I’m about to say, do not negate the reality that I was shaped and molded for four years of my life in this environment. I cherish many memories and the example of many individuals. By God’s grace, the dividends are numerous and the impact will have lasting effects for the years to come. I’m grateful for Dr. MacArthur, the staff of the seminary and college, the local churches my wife and I were a part of, and the multitude of friendships that were forged through the ups and downs of that season of life.

However, the presence of true and real blessings does not mean the absence of some alarming realities. Unfortunately, people who can’t wrap their mind around the previous statement will struggle with the criticisms I levy in this post. They will only see the “heads” side of the coin, unable to comprehend that “tails” even exists. They will use phrases like “how dare you speak negatively of our great president” because of all the “good” that TMUS, Grace To You, and Dr. MacArthur have done over the years.  Life should and must be examined from multiple angles from which we can appreciate elements that are helpful and reject the things that are not. We should be able to affirm both Peter’s miraculous preaching in Acts chapter 2, and his need for correction in Galatians 2 for being out of step with the gospel. As the saying goes, we have to be able to “eat the meat, but spit out the bones.” People who live among minority cultures understand this reality because much of life around us is facilitated by majority culture systems and individuals. Being a minority operating in majority culture can be like trying to build a house using the Imperial system of measurement (i.e. feet, inches, and pounds) when you have been trained your whole life with the Metric system of measurement (i.e. meters, grams).

For 11 years (4 as a student/staff at TMUS & 7 as an alumnus/church planter) I have kept my concerns mainly to myself, daring to share them with only a small group of people who’ve encouraged me to keep moving forward or whom I felt could actually bring about change. For many years I have “bitten my bottom lip” publicly, so to speak. In an attempt to honor those who have impacted my life, I have applied such force and pressure to that lip as to cause the shedding of blood. Yet quietly over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to keep biting that lip and wiping away the blood, and tears.

Since leaving seminary and planting a multicultural church in the inner-city of Montgomery, AL, my appreciation for the gospel and how it impacts racism and justice has only grown. As I watch the perseverance of my neighbors, live among them, and see the tangible struggles of their lives, Christ in me rises up and issues a call to action. As I see believers from various cultures and economic backgrounds forge real gospel community, deferring to one another and believing the best of one another, my appreciation for the gospel in action strengthens. To hear Dr. MacArthur and Grace To You say/write narrow-minded, inconsiderate, and frankly unbiblical things about the intersection of the gospel and racism has had a profound effect on me. It has impacted me to the point of saying, “Enough is enough.” I no longer care that I’m a low level nobody challenging a giant. I no longer care if, like others before me, I’m labeled a “black sheep” by TMUS for lovingly articulating concerns. As a matter of fact, the cavalier attitude of Phil Johnson (executive director of Grace to You), and Dr. MacArthur make it perfectly clear that even if I remain silent, I’m already a “black sheep.” Their comments/writings do nothing to consider the circumstances of anyone other than upper middle class, Republican-leaning white men (I’m neither republican nor democrat), and minorities who are accustomed to that culture. So in reality, my comments today cannot make me what I already feel like, “a black sheep”. I’m just graduating from a “black sheep” to a “blacker sheep.” It’s a promotion that I’m finally willing to accept.

Therefore, no matter what Dr. MacArthur says about the gospel and social justice in his current series hosted by Grace to You, certain truths will not change. No matter how few people hear or agree with what I have to say, the reality of the difficulties many have experienced at TMUS will remain. No matter how they try to change the subject from the real elephant in the room (probation and the potential loss of accreditation by WASC for a lack of integrity mixed with a culture of fear and intimidation) to the issue of social justice, the truth doesn’t change. It is worth noting that the vast majority of the data of the WASC report was given by my white brothers and sisters who are also hurting. I’m speaking up to encourage them, and to let them know they are not alone. I leave my thoughts with you not to change your mind, but to ensure that before God I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t shrink back from saying hard things about beloved institutions and individuals. I write and make my thoughts public to fight for many others, who have not yet been heard or who, for a host of reasons, do not believe that they can speak up. The truth is Dr. MacArthur’s own leadership and institutions show little concern for the African American community and other minority students who grew up in an African American minority context. Every time Dr. MacArthur tells his 50-year-old civil rights story about “his good friend” John Perkins and visiting the murder scene of MLK, I often wonder why those experiences have translated into very little consideration towards marginalized people. Please consider the following realities.

In the entire TMS curriculum, which is 98 credit hours and approximately between 100 – 150 required books to read, not one book is written by a person of African heritage. Additionally, very few people of African descent are even explored within the historical theology classes. We traced the history of Christianity from 100 A.D. to our present day. Of all the historical figures we studied, I only remember Athanasius being identified as someone from African origins. What majority culture Christians don’t realize is that their world is dominated by Christians of European heritage. Minorities are often looking for faces and contributions of people who share their ethnic identity. Not for the sake of being superior. We simply long to understand how people of a similar ethnicity have contributed to redemptive history. You would think that since Dr. MacArthur is such “good friends” with John Perkins we would have read at least one of Dr. Perkins books or even learned about his legacy. However, even our classes that covered the history of Christianity in the United States were void of African American contributions.

Why does this matter? It sends a not so subtle message that the only great thinkers are European thinkers. The only great thoughts are European thoughts. Thus, Christianity is inadvertently portrayed as the white man’s religion. It’s heartbreaking and hurtful. When African Americans or people of color are in fact mentioned, it’s usually in a derogatory way for having bad theology, etc.

The truth is that Christianity would have struggled to survive tremendously without Northern Africans and even African Americans. I just had to learn of them on my own time. My seminary didn’t think those contributions were worth mentioning. I was furious when I was made to write a review of my almost 700 page American Church History book. I read the book intently looking for black or brown people and their contributions. I did not find them. But I did find that Bob Jones was included in the book as a hero of the faith. Bob Jones University refused desegregation until the early 1970’s, and then only conceded at the threat of losing their tax exempt status, which occurred in 1983. They did not overturn their rule banning interracial dating until the year 2000. This was also selfishly motivated to help the then candidate (George W. Bush) win the presidency, who took heat for giving a speech at a university that had a ban on interracial dating. (I reluctantly visited Bob Jones University in April, 2018 and I was pleasantly surprised by their repentance in living out the gospel among all people).

Again, I was furious. I noted my frustration in a blistering review of the book that could devote pages to Bob Jones’ positive contributions to Christianity and could not so much as include a couple of paragraphs on any black person with significant Christian contributions even if they were not perfect. Clearly, Bob Jones wasn’t perfect. I’m sure the professor remembers the book review because I doubt he has received many like it. You can also ask Dr. Paul Felix (the only full-time African American Professor who is now retired). I ranted in his office behind closed doors many a days with many tears. If not for him and his care for me as an African American student with a heart to one day impact the African American community, I would have surely quit. I specifically remember him telling me after ranting, “Calm down before you get kicked out of school.”

Imagine that…being in such a state of anger over how whitewashed your seminary education is that you say things that flirt with the possibility of getting you kicked out of school. I know if myself and many of my African American brothers felt this way, some of my brothers of Asian and Latino descent felt the same way or worse. I pray they will tell their stories too. Their perspectives are often left out of these conversations, but their voices are much needed.

It is hypocritical for Dr. MacArthur or anyone to say “just preach the gospel” thinking that will solve all issues. It doesn’t even work in his own church and the institutions he leads. It certainly will not work in your communities and churches. Hear me well. The true gospel is sufficient. The true gospel makes peace and destroys dividing walls of hostility. The true gospel looks racism and partiality in the face and condemns it to the pit of hell from which it came. It does not build barriers. We have a gospel that gives dignity and value and worth to all peoples. Shouldn’t our institutions that train us to take the gospel to all nations do the same? I distinctly remember when Peter, a Jew, first preached the gospel to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home. Peter was awestruck by a divine revelation. “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).  Then why is there so much partiality at TMUS under the leadership of Dr. MacArthur in curriculum decisions? In my next post I will continue making my argument of partiality in their preaching/worship curriculum and much more.

 


Terrence Jones is the pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park in Montgomery, Alabama. Originally from Norman Park, GA, he attended Tuskegee University on a football scholarship and The Master’s Seminary (M.Div. 2011). Terrance is married to Thais and they are the proud parents of 6 children.