First Take Response to John MacArthur's Article: "The Injustice of Social Justice"

You can read John MacArthur's article entitled "The Injustice of Social Justice" here. Because it does not help spread the goodness of God in Christ but confuses the issue and application of the goodness of God in our current American context, as far as I can tell, I feel the need to write and respond and publicly post here. My desire is that Christ would be more deeply enjoyed and faithfully represented by Christians in America as a result of this long discussion. Below is my response to the article.

I agree that many have drifted by borrowing fads and talking points from the unbelieving world. To adopt their views with only slight adaptations to not become irrelevant is a fool's errand. Yes and amen to that. Just because one uses the same terminology doesn't mean they embrace the same rationale, right? Even MacArthur says they don't support "the full spectrum of radical causes." If not, then maybe they have a different impetus (namely, the Bible) as to why they would argue the reality of oppression.

The social justice movement poses a real threat to all evangelicals. That is 100% true. But if you only see the threat from one side, like MacArthur seems to be doing here, then you miss the other threat of ignoring/minimizing the biblical teaching on justice, public righteousness, and how to practically love one's neighbors in the particular brokenness they inhabit in this sin-cursed world. This 9marks article presents a more accurate and faithful biblical understanding of and application to the dangers on both sides (especially the conclusion):

Responsible evangelicals are not calling for equal outcomes. Could there be another reason they point income comparisons, ethnic quotas, and other stats, namely as evidence of actual oppression? They can be wrong, but can we at least give them the respect and benefit of the doubt that some evangelicals, like David Platt at T4G, brings up the outcomes to argue for ethnocentric oppression rather than to call for equal outcomes?

Does MacArthur assume all societal norms should be maintained to fight against Marxism? The contention is that ethnocentric oppression of African Americans is a current societal norm in America that must be broken down by all Christians who want to obey everything Christ commands them (Matt 28.20).

Do the messages of pro-life OR marriage between one man and one woman OR gender being a biological gift from God "divert attention from Christ and the cross and from things above to things on the earth"? Or should faithful Christians speak these truths in love? If so here, why not also on the unrighteous ethnocentric oppression of their African American neighbors?

I pray MacArthur sees the injustice of ethnocentric oppression of African Americans today the way he sees the injustice of abortion or LGBT confusion, in order that he might faithfully love his African American neighbors as himself, bearing the fruit of the Spirit rather than resisting the Spirit.

He has been so faithful for the last 50 years in many ways, but so far on this one, IF ethnocentric oppression exists for African Americans and is a major problem, then he has been unfaithful on this point. Conversely, IF ethnocentric oppression either does not exist or is not a major problem, then he is faithful and brothers like me must repent and join him.

Lord, help us.

P. J. Tibayan Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Bellflower, CA Alumnus, The Master's Seminary, 2006

Here are some responses and ensuing conversation:

Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin) in reply to 13Friday, September 7, 2018 at 6:05 PM

Dear PJ,

Thank you for commenting. Can you please explain what John MacArthur's "unfaithfulness" means? And conversely, what "faithfulness" would look like?

In this series John MacArthur has repeatedly and emphatically decried injustice, ethnic animus, and anything that results from the curse of sin in society. He has in no way sought to maintain the status quo of societal norms wherever those norms depart from a biblical standard. He has affirmed the existence of the practical real-life consequences of sinful thinking in this world.

So it's unclear to me what precisely it is that you believe quantifies evangelical faithfulness and unfaithfulness.

On another point, you wrote, "Responsible evangelicals are not calling for equal outcomes."

I don't know who you would identify as responsible or irresponsible, but leading evangelicals are calling, at least in some ways, for exactly that. Matt Chandler has been clear that in looking for new pastors he intentionally prefers black pastors over white pastors to even out the staff's diversity (but only so long as it doesn't appear he's practicing "tokenism"). David Platt, in his message at T4G, accused the conference of being "too white" despite the incredible diversity of ethnic backgrounds represented by lighter-skinned people. Likewise other pastors and leaders have called for a kind of affirmative action in church staffing, seminary faculty, etc.

In short, surely we would agree that some have irresponsibly called for equal outcome in all areas, but depending on who you include among "responsible evangelicals", leading evangelicals are indeed calling for equal outcome in different contexts.

Lastly, you wrote, "If so here, why not also on the unrighteous ethnocentric oppression of their African American neighbors?"

The difficulty that many of us have in comparing this with the pro-life and biblical marriage causes is that "ethnocentric oppression" is far less clearly defined and identified than the other issues. Indeed, there are many (I'm not saying most, but many) African Americans who do not agree with the positions taken by this social justice movement on their behalf.

As I've said elsewhere, what laws need to be changed? What policies need to be introduced and implemented? What actual steps do we need to take to correct injustices and oppression? There's no question that the entire evangelical world desires a world free from ethnic animus, unjust oppression, and filled with harmonious relationships. The debate isn't even whether or not that's possible (though that would divide evangelicals based on their eschatological views). Rather, the question many of us have is what actual and practical changes need to be implemented to improve the situation? What does the church need to do with its hands and feet (not just its mouth)? I truly hope you're able to answer this question because it comes back to what does "faithful" look like.

Grace and peace.

Hohn Cin reply to 13 Saturday, September 8, 2018 at 12:01 AM

Hi PJ, you’ve already admitted in two prior interactions that you are assuming/asserting the existence of “ethnocentric oppression” when in fact the nature and degree of whatever you mean by that term are part of the very essence of the dispute. As Gabriel notes, so many of the claims here are implicit, indirect, and vague, which does not exactly constitute strong support for your proposition, which you have the burden of proof to establish.

At the end of the day, passages like James 2 talk about the sin of partiality. A preacher is not forced to talk about “ethnocentric oppression of African Americans” in order to faithfully exposit James 2, and frankly it would be flatly legalistic to insist that anyone must.

How a preacher selects specific application points for a sermon is a matter between him and the Holy Spirit. Often, it manifests as a reflection of perceived priorities and importance. And I don’t think anyone in the US could be faulted for deciding that the murder of nearly a million babies a year is a wee bit more important than either 70-170 unarmed people of all ethnicities killed by police (a significant portion of whom were justifiable shootings), or marginal improvements in socioeconomic status in our already highly wealthy society.

P. J. Tibayanin reply to 27 Saturday, September 8, 2018 at 10:38 AM

Thanks, Brother Hohn (and Brother Gabriel).

IF ethnocentric oppression exists for African Americans and is a major problem, then MacArthur has been unfaithful on this point. Conversely, IF ethnocentric oppression either does not exist or is not a major problem, then he is faithful and brothers like me must repent and join him.

Is the first hypothetical statement true when the protasis is granted? Is the second hypothetical statement true when the protasis is granted?

Does MacArthur believe ethnocentric oppression exists as a major problem in America or not? Do you?

Your brother,

P. J. Tibayan,

Bethany Baptist Church, Bellflower, CA

Thanks, Brother Gabriel, for clarifying your point.

Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)in reply to 45 Saturday, September 8, 2018 at 12:21 PM


Perhaps there was miscommunication, but it seems you missed the point that both Hohn and I made that before we can establish the faithfulness and unfaithfulness of either side of the debate, three concepts need to be defined:

1) The nature and degree of ethnocentric oppression (how do we identify it?)

2) What faithfulness means or looks like (what can and should we do about it?)

3) What unfaithfulness means or looks like (what biblical requirements have we neglected?)

Everyone would agree that there are individuals in this world who ignore rules, laws, regulations, and policies to commit all manner of criminal and unethical activity, including racial injustice. Some of these individuals are caught, stand trial, and punished. But many of these individuals get away with their crimes. This happens with thieves, murderers, drug lords, white-collar criminals, shop lifters, predatory lenders, politicians, judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers, employers, and on and on.

But I'm pretty sure that's not what is meant by "ethnocentric oppression."

P. J. Tibayanin reply to 48 Saturday, September 8, 2018 at 12:30 PM

Can we focus on the first one first? What is ethnocentric oppression and what does it look like?

Ethnocentrism is exalting one group's instead of exalting God's name in such a way as to collectively disobey God and act toward another ethnicity in an unloving (oppressive, unjust or indifferent) manner. It does not have to be intended or self-conscious as a group or individual. It's not individual personal irrational prejudice toward other ethnicities.

Oppression is using one's power to the natural benefit of the person(s) in power to the detriment of the ones under that power.

Ethnocentric oppression: The cumulative effect of ethno-centeredness and practices that become embodied and expressed in the policies, rules, regulations, procedures, expectations, norms, assumptions, guidelines, plans, strategies, objectives, practices, values, standards, narratives, histories, records, and the like, which accordingly disadvantages, oppresses, causes indifference toward, and/or dismisses one ethnic people group and unfairly benefits another particular ethnic people group. It is not necessarily individual personal irrational prejudice toward other ethnicities (to borrow words from one pastor-theologian, John Piper's article on "structural racism" on ).

Question in light of the definitions above:

Do Brothers John, Hohn, and Gabriel assume ethnocentric oppression exists toward African Americans (in general) in America today and is a major problem, or do they not?

Your brother, P. J. Tibayan, Bethany Baptist Church, Bellflower, CA