I was asked for my thoughts on the Ben Shapiro interview of John MacArthur. I had a difficult time listening through much of it, despite several points of agreement. While am grateful for a lot of what he says, and that he had an opportunity to share the Gospel clearly with the unbeliever Ben Shapiro, there are several grave concerns with his perspectives. Many people will think that the fact that he shared the Gospel here will outweigh the rest. It does not. Where he went right, it is great; but where he went wrong, it will mislead millions of people into the very dangerous, truncated, anemic Christianity that has led us where we are today.
I have to say, for a man in such an exalted position among evangelicals and revered by many conservative Christians as one of the best Bible exegetes of our time, MacArthur says some of the most fundamentally ignorant things that dishonor the Bible and damage the mission of the body of Christ. I will share a few of my core concerns here briefly.
In this article I will cover four points:
- The false dichotomy between “political” and “moral” issues
- The Old Testament church-state separation blunder
- The end-times pessimism error
- MacArthur playing the race card
If you are in a pinch for time, skip to the second point, for it is the most startling error I have heard in a long time; though, all four points are equally important.
Economic and Social Issues are not “moral” issues?
The first of these deals with his view of preaching to social issues. Shapiro asked if the pulpit ought to be engaged in preaching about political issues, or how should that be done. MacArthur, as he has done in the past, didn’t give a clear answer. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to be accused of confusing the Gospel and politics, or “preaching politics,” which is so often seen as a no-no. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to be accused of ignoring obvious cases of injustice, such as have happened so often right under the nose of the church, while the churches turned a blind eye: slavery, holocaust, Jim Crow, etc.
The only way out of this dilemma is to state a clear, biblical social theory and a clear set of standards for society (i.e., biblical law). MacArthur won’t do that, and neither will the vast majority of evangelical leaders. So, they’re stuck. So, when Shapiro pushes a slight bit and notes that if you just preach straight biblical values, they are de facto going to have real-world political consequences, even if some of those issues like “pro-family” weren’t so “political” 50 years ago, respondents like MacArthur are stuck on the fence, paying lip service to both sides.
JMac says, “It was different 50 years ago.” Back then it was about “some sort of social structure and economics.” But, it’s about “morality” now. Now it is “fraught with moral issues.”
A charitable hearing says he is simply acknowledging that something like marriage, sexuality, or abortion that is politically divisive today was assumed as normal 50 years ago, and thus not so “political.” Whereas, economic issues were not.
The problem is, none of this is true (except in a very superficial way). The attacks on the family may not have been as widespread back then, but they were very intense and very real. If you go back far enough, you have slavery and the overt attacks on the black family that literally ripped children from their mothers and ripped spouses apart—by the hundreds of thousands. Men who held MacArthur’s view against “preaching politics” stood by and watched it happen, and in some cases approved of it. It’s easy to say that was a long time ago; forgive me for thinking it’s still a huge part of American history, a huge part of the failure of the churches and her ministers. We serve a tremendous insult to hearts and minds of many blacks today when we dismiss it as inconsequential to “the big picture” or any other picture of American life, or worse, simply ignore it.
Likewise, the rise of the welfare state led to overt attacks on the family through economic means. World Wars and militarism, standing armies, did too. We could go on.
More importantly, however, is this dualism that says economic and social issues are not moral issues. This is simply false from a biblical perspective. Money and budgets are huge moral issues, and they hinge upon fundamental commandments of God. Taxation, wealth redistribution, oppression, police powers, military power, prison, courts, due process, and host of other such issues are all applications of bedrock fundamental moral values. In fact, we could say that there is not a single serious political issue that is not at its root also a moral issue.
The problem for preachers like MacArthur and his host of anti-social justice signatories is that the moment you admit that, you indict the conservative Christian churches across the board for decades and centuries of failures in this area. So, they speak of some great divide between political issues and alleged “moral issues.”
There is no such divide, and the pulpits stand indicted.
The pulpits stand indicted for the decades and centuries they should have been preaching against all manner of violation of God’s moral standards: public education, slavery, racism, lack of due process, inequality, police brutality, monetary inflation, unnecessary warfare, military drafts, welfarism, unjust weights and measures, regulated markets, corporate welfare, etc., etc. The vast majority of them for the vast majority of American history stood by silently as members of their society and members of their own churches engaged in such activities and approved of them forced upon others through civil government. The vast majority never resisted all these tyrannies for generations. But now, as the tyranny has crept into other areas of morality—as Paul tells us it does (Rom. 1)—suddenly we pretend society has gone crazy and we have to stand up and be the moral voice of it. Suddenly, when we feel threatened by the political power of homosexuals and “intersectionality” and “feminism,” we now have to “take a stand.” In short, we ignored evil by retreating into a corner, but the evil we ignored has now found us, and . . . we’re in a corner.
So, it is not uncommon for such people to echo MacArthur’s claim here: “If you are one who has a moral authority [he means the preachers, like him], which would be the word of the living God, the Creator, then your responsibility in any society is to make sure that God’s moral standards are heard.” But you will not see him get consistent with this to the point it criticizes his own applications of those standards to things he, or his congregation or following, believes and practices politically and socially. When those conflicts grow clear, he immediately pivots and says things like this: “The presidency is not a moral job. It’s not a position of moral authority. It never has been.”
Again, there is no such distinction between moral and political values in Scripture. As I have said for a long time, when conservative Christians dismiss the discussion of social issues, those issues will not simply go away. The vacuum will be filled by leftists and leftism will become the default position on the issue. What conservatives like MacArthur need to do, and have needed to do for a long time, is to develop a truly biblical social ethic with biblical standards. And they don’t.
The reasons why they don’t are simple. Poor doctrine is one of them. Basic ignorance is another. Here is one startling example:
Ignorance on basic biblical government
When I heard JMac say this, I was floored. I was blown away that a man allegedly so educated in the Bible, who in this very interview boasted that he has preached on every verse of the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to the very end of Revelation, could nevertheless make such an ignorant, backwards statement such as what follows.
Shapiro noted that if we are indeed to follow “God’s moral standards,” and even God’s rules for moral character in leaders as Exodus 18 says (and to which MacArthur had just referred), then it sounds like a biblical society must have to be a “theocracy” and a “utopia” which is scary to many people. MacArthur answered that Old Testament Israel was supposed to be a theocracy. Then he said the most uninformed thing that can be imagined: “The people who ran the government were priests.” Yes, he literally said that the “orders of the priests” were “the officials of the government. That was a theocratic kingdom.”
This may not seem like a big deal to most Christians, but it is massively important. It cannot be understated just how massively crucial and monumental this biblical concept is, and MacArthur has it absolutely backwards and upside down. The fact that more Christians don’t realize this immediately, and recoil in horror, is only because they have for generations now suffered under the tutelage of teachers like John MacArthur.
Not only is it a false statement to say that the Old Testament government was run by the priests, and that the priests were the “officials of the government,” it was just the opposite, and it was exclusively an Old Testament gift to humanity.
Contrary to the confusion foisted upon us by enlightenment liars and misguided ministers, there was a separation of the institutions of church and state in Old Testament law. The priesthood/church could not administer justice, and the state was absolutely forbidden from engaging in the work of the priesthood, temple, sacrifices, offerings, etc.
Not only this, but biblical law was the origin of what we today call the separation of powers, or of church and state. This did not appear in ancient Egypt, Babylon, Rome or Greece. In each of the places, the head of state was divine and was considered a priest or a god himself, or both. Caesar’s titles included “Son of God” and “Pontifex Maximus,” or “High Priest.” All religions in the state had to bow first to the emperor. This is why Christians were executed: they refused, and were called “atheists” for doing so.
Only in the Hebrew republic were these separations of powers and institutions enshrined—by God himself. The Hebrew theocracy was the bedrock of this crucial western freedom, and of many others.
Yet here you have perhaps the most revered fundamentalist minister on the most popular conservative podcast, speaking into the lives of millions of people—what an opportunity to spread the truth of our history, political science, and biblical social theory! And the guy goes on to say one of the most fundamentally ignorant things about the Bible and society that could be said.
In the same section of discussion, MacArthur questions whether or the even the American Revolution can be considered something Christians should have supported. In this, he seems fundamentally unaware that many of his Christian, including Reformed Baptist, predecessors at that time did understand that the separation of powers derived directly from Old Testament law. It was precisely because generations of preachers up until that time had been preaching this concept directly from Old Testament law, training generations of American Christians to think rightly on the issue, that when oppression raised it head in the form of unjust taxation, lack of due process, lack of political representation, the specter of ecclesiastical powers imposed upon them, and more, those Christians could not be budged—and had the moral authority on which to do so. The pulpits were not silent!
All of this, for the doubting, is documented in a book we reprinted, called The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution. You can read my introduction to it here, and see why this type of thinking from MacArthur is not just wrong but alarming and dangerous. Get the book and hear for yourself the number of Presbyterian, Congregational, and Baptist ministers who taught these biblical principles of government, usually straight from Old Testament law.
Again, that MacArthur does not seem to be aware of any of this, and worse, gets the teaching of the Old Testament backwards, is frightening.
But there is more.
Everything must get “worse and worse”
I will be very brief on these final two points. MacArthur seems to agree with Shapiro that a biblical theocracy is a bad thing. It is not only that he misunderstands the nature of it, but that he sees all social improvement only through the lens of his narrow view of the “end times.” This view is common among many Christians. It believes that the New Testament says a biblical society is impossible because the New Testament says society is going to get worse and worse until Christ himself returns in the future and sets up his own kingdom, headquartered at Jerusalem.
Briefly, while the Bible does contain a phrase with that idea, “waxing worse and worse,” it was referring to the first century times, leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. It was not referring to all of history. On this fundamental error, all of the “premillennial” positions, including dispensationalism, historicism, and others, have gone awry. All have claimed that disfunction in society is expected and there is no use trying to confront it because it will continue through all of history until it culminates in some great conflagration. In short, this view inaccurate. The whole basic premise upon which John MacArthur’s entire outlook of Christianity in history and thus all social issues are founded . . . is wrong.
I won’t belabor all the obvious reasons why, and there are many. We at American Vision, particularly the work of Gary DeMar, have made a career out of addressing this error, and have an entire library of resources available to offer based upon it. In short, for the first century readers, yes, evil would wax worse and worse, but it also says they would not prosper very long and would be cut off for of them all to see (v. 9). Those readers were to expect that. And they did see it realized in AD 70. For the rest of us after that time, the slow, gradual improvement over time is to be expected, and our Commission to make disciples of all nations and teach them all things God has commanded—all things, including the social things.
MacArthur’s teaching here is again not only wrong, it is dangerous; but it dovetails nicely with his equally incorrect view dividing social affairs from moral affairs. These two strains of teaching combined tell Christians not to engage in cultural and political issues, not really even to care about them except to see the failure proceeding their inaction as confirmation that the world should get worse and worse. It’s a vicious set of doctrines which causes a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy (not Bible prophecy!).
The fraud of “latent antisemitism”
Finally, only a word needs to be said about the hypocrisy of playing the race card. MacArthur has recently led thousands of Christians, pastors, and other leaders in signing a statement against social justice and in a crusade against all things social justice. Among the many things so frequently decried among these crusaders is the overuse of the label “racist” by many activists. Granted, it can be overused. Its overuse and the oversensitivity and overcorrecting of its overuse are both unfortunate, and both used as illogical conversation stoppers. We wrongly demonize people this way.
Yet it is funny that when it comes to a competing view of Bible prophecy, MacArthur does not stop himself from playing the race card. The widely-held and historical belief that the Christian church, the believing body of Christ, is the fulfillment of the one-and-only people of God in history, is labeled “replacement theology” and dismissed, by MacArthur, as a “latent form of antisemitism.”
Sure, there were anti-Semites in church history who covered their sins by holding this view, the same way many modern people abuse ethnicities, engage in racist language, etc., while nevertheless hiding behind due process, property rights, police powers, badges, etc. But we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. MacArthur implies that the position itself is antisemitic. This is the equivalent of a leftist throwing the race card immediately when someone disagrees with them, whether it fits or not.
But MacArthur is wrong on Bible prophecy, wrong on eschatology, and wrong on the nature of the Church and its future. He is equally wrong in calling those who would disagree with him antisemitic merely for doing so.
In fact, he knows good and well that in his own view, any Jewish-descent nonbeliever, even practicing Jews, who die without Christ will suffer eternal punishment the same as any other unbeliever. There is no path to salvation outside of Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. Yet if they believe, they will be saved—but only because they have come into the true church, the body of Christ. There are no exceptions to this, and never will be. That is the exact same view as held by most of the opponents he is talking about.
So what exactly is latently antisemitic about any of this? Is it anti-Jew? No. Then it is not antisemitic. Is the eternal punishment of an unbelieving Jew antisemitic? If so, then so is MacArthur’s view. Yet he labels his theological opponents antisemitic.
I don’t get it, except that, like modern leftists, it is easier to win a theological debate with emotion-laden fallacies and associations than by reasoned argument, facts, and logic.
Further, it is a double standard to cry race here and then turn a blind eye to all the “political” and “social” issues out there where racism truly does exist. Oh, JMac would appeal, “That is not the church’s job. We must simply preach the Gospel.”
These are just a few of the outstanding issues. We could find more, but if these are not enough to make you look for something better, I am not sure what to tell you.
Quite frankly, I am so tired and discouraged every time I hear celebrity preachers like this repeat the same tired mistakes—not only because they have ignored the truth for so long, even after decades of attempts at correction, but because these particular errors are very damaging to our society. These pundits seem to prefer it that way.
While good on a few obvious social issues—low hanging fruit—MacArthur and others have done worse than not help on a host of crucial social issues. They have quite often impeded any help, sidelined the potential help, and in some cases even supported or encouraged the oppressors.
Meanwhile, the single greatest need, socially speaking, from conservative Christianity remains the creation of a conservative social ethic, based on Scripture, restraining corruption in both individual and institutional/government powers. This, as far as the vast majority of MacArthur-like preachers are concerned, remains neglected and rejected.
Two things result: First, forgive me if I don’t blame even the more leftist Christians for at least trying to address social issues, even if they may get the principles and application wrong in many cases. Second, forgive me for not taking the vast majority of these G3-types too seriously as they perpetually fail on this issue, then excuse themselves for their failure, then create theological constructs to justify their failure and to condemn those who refuse to give up. Forgive me as I look elsewhere.