John MacArthur has posted his fourth installment on the social justice movement (Brad already beat me to a response) and as much as I have no energy for this, I think it may be helpful to throw down a few thoughts in addition to his.
The Problem of Babel
Bear with me for a moment as I back up to address what I think is the root cause of everyone’s disagreement here: the Tower of Babel. Babel isn’t just the place where everyone had to give up working on a shared construction project because they couldn’t understand each other (like we teach in children’s Bible class), Babel is the place where God fractured interpersonal communication at an almost fundamental level. There God isolated families and so created nations, ethnicities, and various peoples, in order to destroy trust and generate warfare and strife. Why? Well for one because that would cause us to seek Him out, and for two such misery is far better than the alternative of a permanent, locked-in global apostasy that can only be cured by the catastrophic extinction of all mankind. But because communication itself was compromised at Babel, discussions are decidedly more difficult as a consequence. Even in the best case circumstances, a discussion in white America, where all participants are orthodox, English speaking Christians who share a common Reformed heritage, it’s easy to completely miss the point of what we are trying to say to each other.
Part of this tendency to talk past each other comes from the fact that our brothers in the Fundamentalist movement don’t have a thought-category to process what we Reformed mean when we say things. I mean no disrespect by this, I’m just speaking from my own experience both as being a Baptist, and talking to my Baptist friends versus being Reformed now. Words and ideas build categories in the mind, and without a prior adoption of a shared framework a meaningful discussion is very hard to have. Consider the Federal Vision controversy, which looks like so much dismissible nonsense to a Fundamentalist and a serious argument to the Reformed. Post-millennialism appears to be a really boneheaded mistake to the one, but an almost necessary result to the other. The same goes for infant baptism. The Fundamentalist doesn’t have a way to process the arguments for it because there’s no preexisting framework to understand what’s being said, so it seems to be a holdover from Rome at best, and a doctrine of demons at worst. What this means is, it’s very possible in a discussion for Fundamentalists to have a concern that the Reformed don’t see as valid, and in reality isn’t valid. And I suspect that’s a large part of what’s happening here.
The other part of the problem (I think) is that we here at Heart and Mouth use charged language without a due consideration of how other people are using words in different ways. In our zero trust society we use phrases as a shibboleth in an almost paranoid fashion, which means a turn of phrase can either be harmless or deadly depending on the affiliation of the person making it. Take for example the phrase “Black Lives Matters” which is a highly contextualized statement that can mean anything between “sit and be with me” to “I want you dead”. In the hands of a gentle and loving black Christian it means “As a minority I have to deal with different problems than you do, and sometimes I feel that the system is stacked against me unfairly. You probably don’t see that because we’re different.” And the response to this is to sit and listen carefully and weigh the opinion as more important than your own, because that’s not only reasonable, it’s obviously self-evidently true and necessary. In the mouth of an anarcho-communist who wants to pull down the existing social structure because he’s greedy for power however, “black lives matter” means something like, “I want the police abolished, and the totalitarian leftist wing of the socialist party to start cracking heads.” The proper response to that is very different. But because we don’t meet in person anymore, anytime someone says a phrase everyone defaults out of fear to the most terrible interpretation possible and prepares for combat.
When Brad says something like we’re beneficiaries of white privilege, what I take him to mean is the gentle and self-evident statement, not the oppressive and violent one. Something like the following scenario: a black brother in Christ says to his white brother that white people holding up signs saying “all lives matter” are making things worse and are bound to be misunderstood. The white brother immediately becomes suspicious. It seems like his black brother isn’t recognizing the importance of taking personal responsibility and being as virtuous an individual as possible, but is instead rejecting the foundation for western civilization. Not that his black brother is advocating sin mind you, but that his thinking has become compromised with regards to a certain topic by the spirit of the age and wider culture, and his judgment is suspect. The white brother replies, “Why would you be advocating for special privilege like that? We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” Upon hearing that their discussion is closed, the black brother now wonders why we can’t even have a conversation about potential systemic injustices, and why he’s dismissed before any dialogue can get started. In this case the white brother never asks himself the question, “does my black brother have the right to associate me with the KKK for insisting all lives matter, like I would associate him with the Marxist movement for insisting black lives matter?” Because of his privilege of not having to face the problem all the time the white brother doesn’t have to ask this of himself. But is that fair? Shouldn’t the white brother extend the same graces that the black brother has to extend? I think so. That seems reasonable.
What I take Brad to be advocating in the social justice topic is a kind of openness and reluctance to judge. He appears to be calling others to listen carefully before dismissing another’s viewpoint, because our eyes don’t turn inward. And that’s very important, we need our brothers to help us with our blind spots because they are, well, blind spots. He just hasn’t been careful to distance himself from the others who use the words with more awful meanings.
Physician, Heal Thyself
Of course, if this was truly what we were saying, and we weren’t playing party politics, the Fundamentalists could rightly come back with the rejoinder, “Look brother this is your blind spot. You Reformed fell into liberalism when we didn’t. Remember how a huge bulk of your movement apostatized when ours didn’t? Meanwhile our movement is bearing fruit in changed lives and faithful Bible preaching. You ought to listen to us on this. We see the same old error cropping up again. If you truly want openness and dialogue then you have to own it too. It’s all well and good to declare yourself to be for high principles when it costs you nothing, but what about when you have to put up with being annoyed by people like us?”
And our fundamentalists brothers would be right about that. We should be listening intently, and if they get finished speaking and are wrong we should be answering graciously. We who advocate listening, do we listen? We who preach openness, are we humble? We who want others to communicate, are we doing the same? Are we better than R.C. Sproul who when debating John MacArthur on infant baptism declined to debate him lest he be seen to be against John’s many years of service to Christ? I think not.
All that to say, John has said some interesting things thus far that are clearly right, and a lot that I’m not sure is applicable to the discussion. He seems to be aiming at liberalism, while Brad is aiming at something else. But John is also not done talking yet, so I cannot really answer yet, because I have been commanded to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. I’ll keep waiting for the thread to unspool, and in the meantime commend Brad for his much more measured response this time around.
In the next post I’m going to address the impulse to make enemies in our modern age and how it hurts pretty much everything when having a discussion.