Misplaced Jesus, Theology — February 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Open Letter to John MacArthur: Quit proof-texting with lives at risk in the Middle East


Dear Reverend MacArthur:

In a recent interview with the Christian Post, you warned that pro-democracy protests in the Middle East are in violation of biblical commands. With strange appeals to nostalgia you asserted, “I would have wished the American government, which has a history of Christianity, would have risen up and said ‘this is wrong, this is forbidden for people to do this, this is intolerable”.

As an Egyptian American I was saddened, disturbed and frustrated with your claim, but as a fellow believer and brother in Christ I am even more concerned. Here are three reasons why:

1) You cherry-pick scripture at the expense of other equally biblical themes.

It’s true that the Apostle Paul called early Christians to submit to temporal authorities, invoking God as the final arbiter of the established political order (Romans 13:1-17). However, Scripture also repeats another call: “Learn to do right. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” (Isaiah 1:17).

There are hundreds of passages echoing similar themes, calling God’s children to defend the oppressed.  Great heroes of the faith like Moses, Mordecai, Joseph, Isaiah, and even Jesus, defied political authority for the sake of Gods Kingdom.  Scripture unequivocally commands us to stand for righteousness, justice, and to side with the weak—and by example shows us that this stand is sometimes in opposition to political authority.  Scripture’s greatest intolerance is for those who exploit the weak and powerfulness, not those who stand with them.

Your reasoning ignores the beautiful (and subversive) scriptural motif of God redeeming all things, often in the face of corrupt and oppressive political authorities. This kind of proof-texting at the expense of the rest of scripture not only demeans the current struggle for justice, it distorts Scripture.

2) You ignore the legacy of Christian social movements that have changed history.

We don’t need to look very far into history to see where God has used the Church’s defiance of political authority to advance the virtues and values of the Kingdom of God within the public arena. What would our world look like if your reading of Scripture ruled the day during the American Civil Rights Movement, the fight to end child labor, and the battle to end the transatlantic slave trade?

Each of these social movements, strongly rooted in the church, used tactics that you call forbidden, wrong, and intolerable.  Only a reading of scripture rooted in power and privilege could call these social movements unbiblical.  I believe the same applies to the pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East, regardless of the outcome.

3) You limit God’s sovereignty to intervene in current events.

You’re right. Not every struggle for justice ends in success. But your reasoning is problematic:

“This is another form of bondage. They’re going to end up in another form of bondage; they’re going to end up the same, sinful, corrupt, unsatisfied, unfulfilled people taking their same anxieties in a different direction. So it’s not a solution to anything.”

In other words, just because there’s a chance that things won’t turn out better than they were before, oppressed people should not demand that their governments govern justly, and hold them accountable when they neglect to do so? This reasoning not only offends my conscience, it’s unbiblical. It exposes what some might call a fatalistic belief that God no longer intervenes in human history — or that God’s best hopes and dreams do not include greater justice in the world.

As followers of Christ, I believe we must stand on the side of the oppressed, and trust in a good and sovereign God, no matter the outcome. We don’t stand for justice only if it “wins”.  Let’s not limit God plans for redemption in our world. Who knows? He might even use Muslims to accomplish his will.


As the church in the United States I hope we’re better than simply relying on proof texts that allow us to sit back in comfort and security and condemn those who peacefully desire the same.  May we have the courage to stand with oppressed people in the Middle East and surround them with our fervent prayers and support.

May we also use this as an opportunity to proclaim a just and righteous God who grieves at oppression and the abuse of political power; a God who every day is reconciling the world to himself; a God that loved the world so much he gave his son that we might be saved.

Your brother in Christ,
Jason Fileta

PS: If you’re wondering who John MacArthur is, here are a few words, via Wikipedia:

John Fullerton MacArthur, Jr. (born June 19, 1939) is a United States evangelical writer and minister noted for his radio program entitled Grace to You. MacArthur is a popular author and conference speaker and has served as the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California since 1969, and as the president of The Master’s College (and the related The Master’s Seminary) in Santa Clarita, California.

Theologically, MacArthur is considered a Dispensationalist and Calvinist, and a strong proponent ofexpository preaching. He has been acknowledged by Christianity Today as one of the most influential preachers of his time, and was a frequent guest on the Larry King Live TV talk show as a representative of an evangelical Christian perspective.


  • This is a fantastic response and as an Egyptian-American Christian, I couldn’t agree more with what you said. I also do not think it is an accident that these revolutions are happening at the same time that God’s kingdom is being rapidly established in the Middle East, while rapidly declining in the West. It is about time that people like MacArthur recognize that the Christian faith, which was first established in the Middle East (leading to Rome) is much greater than his interpretations.

  • I think Macarthur’s article is based on a real misunderstanding of Romans 13. I found this which I think is a more accurate analysis of Paul’s thought as described by N.T. Wright:

    “Paul’s point is not the maximalist one that whatever governments do must be right and that whatever they enact must be obeyed, but the solid if minimalist one that God wants human society to be ordered; that being Christian does not release one from the complex obligations of this order; and that one must therefore submit, at least in general, to those entrusted with enforcing this order.

    “This implies, I think, neither quiescence before, nor acquiescence in, totalitarianism. The history-of-religions background to Paul’s thinking is instructive: Jews holding views broadly analogous to his were quite capable of political activity in the Empire, and of reminding governments of their business. What Paul says is clearly anathema to the totalitarian: the point about totalitarianism is that the ruling power has taken the place of God; that is why it is always de facto, and frequently de jure, atheist. For Paul, the ‘state’ is not God. God is God, and the state is thus relativized, as are the powers precisely in Colossians 1:15-20, where they are created and reconciled but not divine.”


  • MacArthur says “I would have wished the American government, which has a history of Christianity…”.
    However, the American revolution itself fails MacArthur’s own standard of submission to authorities (the British crown). Where is the logical consistency?

  • Beautiful said. Thank you.

  • Thank you thank you thank you thank you for this open letter!

  • Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate them. I was a little nervous to take on such a giant, but his words hurt deeply and I felt compelled to respond. Thanks again!

  • Go David! Take on the Goliath!

  • thanks for stepping out in faith and writng this post, Jason. I wandered over from Internetmonk, where the discussion of this went over 270 comments in two days, so Macarthur’s words struck many as hurtful.

    Keep writing and praying, the Kingdom needs your voice, now more than ever.

  • Wow! Just wow, you are no better calling Dr. MacArthur Johnny Mac. Dr. MacArthur is not your enemy, Goliath was an enemy. Church, be very careful attacking God’s messengers.

    • Jane, Dr. MacArthur has a special calling on his life, so do you, so do I. He made very public statements in a public forum, public push back is not out of line for such a visible figure. I’d recommend taking Mr. Mac off the pedestal, and replacing him with HIM.

      Critiquing John Mac openly and honestly makes no one an enemy: faithful are the wounds of friends, etc..

  • Unfortunately, a lot of Dr. MacArthur’s argument is eerily similar to arguments against slavery in the U.S. i.e. the Bible says slaves should be obedient to their masters, if they’re freed, they’re too vulgar to know how to behave in civil society, etc. This kind of response is usually based more on fear of the unknown (how these uprisings play out global relations) than fear of disobedience to God’s statutes.

  • You only quoted one part of what john macarthur said… he ALSO stated that he doesn’t like what the current leaders are doing and how they have all this money in their own pockets at the expense of the people that are being oppressed, but he ALSO said that they WAY They are going about trying to change things is bringin bloodshed and chaos. And for WHAT?! they have no idea how this will end up – maybe the next leaders will be even worse or maybe this chaos will continue? He simply said any government (no matter how bad ) has to be better than complete anarchy. From the article linked: “He continued, “And the reason is, any form of government is better than anarchy. You get a little bit of a taste of what’s going on right now – people are dying, property is being destroyed. You can’t have this. And inevitably what’s going to come out of this is going to be less order, more chaos, and perhaps what will come out of less order and more chaos is a worse kind of control, more dominating power.”…simply put- he just doesnt see how this kind of uprising will lead to a BETTER future for this country. He sees it that they are making things worse. And to be fair, he never said that no one should help the oppressed or poor. Yes christians in the past in america have done good thingsl ike try to end slavery. John M isnt saying we shouldnt help people. Just that Anarchy is not good and may not even get this country to a better place. He’s obviously concerned for them.

  • Excellent, thought-provoking response to John MacArthur; thanks for saying, so articulately, what so many of us were thinking! :)

  • I am not so quick to attack a man who so ardently and passionately seeks to honor His Lord with every beat of His heart. A man whom the Lord has obviously annointed and blessed with great wisdom, knowledge and understanding of His word and then appointed to go and teach those who will listen. I pray God would bless us all with these gifts and that we might all remain faithful to the advancement of His Kingdom by remaining eternally focused.

  • I have been blessed by John MacArthur’s radio ministry, his books and DVD’s. Best of all is the MacArthur Bible from which I have and still am learning much. May God richly bless him for his devoted service to our Lord
    and Master. Thank you John.

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