The Gospel is Good News (Or Why Social Justice is Integral to the Gospel)

Monday, September 17, 2018

John MacArthur has had a lot to say about social justice this past month.

So have I.

John MacArthur is a big name in evangelical Christianity, known for his numerous books, Calvinist/Cessationist theology, and pastoral position at Grace Community Church. A few weeks ago, John MacArthur made some statements that undermined the church's involvement in issues of "social justice." Simply put, MacArthur contended that social justice is actually a threat to the church's mission of proclaiming the Gospel.

Since then, he's released a statement against social justice and has urged pastors and leaders to sign it. At the time that I write this, there have been over 8,000 people who have signed this statement.

There are so many things wrong with this statement: from matters of the inerrancy of Scripture, to the denial of social sin, to the separation of justice from the gospel, to the rejection of the term "gay Christian," to the role of women in leadership, to racism as a systemic evil (!) ... I have a hard time knowing even where to start.

Actually, I know where I want to start: "What they heck? Have they read any of the prophets AT ALL?"

But let's start with the core of the statement, through which many of MacArthur's other points come: the Gospel. Here's what he says:

The word "gospel" means "good news," but this doesn't sound like very much good news to me. This is an extremely narrow view of what the Gospel is and doesn't take into account all of Scripture's (both the OT and the NT) understanding of "salvation." Clearly McArthur and friends think that the only "good news" to be found is the forgiveness of our sins.

This puts God in a straight-jacket, because God's ultimate mission was never to just save our sins; God has the full redemption of the cosmos in his sight.

And this mission is not secondary to rescuing individuals from their individualized sin. The shalom of the entire world is not just "legitimate and important in [its] own right." It is the mission.

Very rarely do the prophets talk about the personal sins of God's people. Instead, they spend the vast majority of their critiques calling out social sin and demanding that God's people act justly and mercifully. This is because the prophets understood that collective sins were indicative of an entire community's individual sins. According to the prophets, the biggest enemy God's people faced was not Assyria or Egypt; it was their own social sin.

But perhaps we should make our case with evidence from the New Testament, because clearly MacArthur and friends do not think that the Gospel is in the Old Testament.

In Luke 4, Jesus stood before and entire synagogue and made the following claim from Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This passage makes up Luke's entire "thesis statement" for the rest of his gospel. Notice that nowhere does Jesus mention that he was sent to save people from their sin. Luke's gospel is a Gospel of social justice.

Yes, Jesus came to save you from your sins, but that's only the first step in his plan. God wants you to be part of his mission to redeem the entire world back to God's self.

The entire Biblical narrative points to this truth: God's plan was to "save" Abraham's family (then Israel, then the Church) so that they could be transformed through Yahweh's love and point the rest of the world to Yahweh.

John McArthur's definition of "gospel" is a very incomplete plan. It's never been about saving people so that they can all escape this world and go to "heaven."

When Scripture commands God's people to strive for justice, wholeness, and reconciliation, God's not giving suggestions. God's Gospel, the shalom of the entire world, demands that we as God's people actively advocate for racial reconciliation, justice for the poor, and the protection of the vulnerable. 

Social justice is not an option for the Church.

And that's good news.

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