Opinion

John MacArthur and the Culture Wars: Part 3

In Paul Dallas’ novel The Lost Planet, a story about how two teenagers avert a war between their home planets, the main characters learn a crucial military lesson. The scene takes place just before the teenager from Earth boards a spaceship and travels to the distant planet Poseida:

As he spoke, the general seemed to become preoccupied with thoughts of the military situation, and he absently deployed salt and pepper shakers with knives and forks on the table, setting up in front of him an imaginary military problem in the field. “It is a basic truism,” he continued, “that wherever possible the best defense is a good offense.

Now if we are attacked,” and he brought a piece of silverware in toward the plate that was obviously representing Planet Earth, “not only do we defend the point under immediate attack but,” and here several pieces were quickly moved from the plate Earth to the butter dish from which the attack had originated, “we immediately counterattack at the source of the aggression. After all, if you cut off the head, you have no need to fear the arms.”1

Dallas has the General making a crucial point about fighting and winning against an enemy. The best defense, no matter how good, requires a good offense. Defending the Christian worldview against unbelieving thought takes an understanding that every worldview has a centralized guiding principle that serves as the head that directs belief and action to the arms and legs.

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By going after the head, as David did to Goliath, the attacking opposition is defeated, no matter how strong the arms and legs.

Christians tend to attack symptoms, the rotten fruit of unbelieving thought, rather than exposing the root that gives life to the tree. The Bible tells us, “The ax is already laid at the root of the trees” with the result that “every tree … that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 3:10)

There are two competing worldviews with two ways of salvation and two philosophies of life that affect everything. God created the world and said it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Even after the Fall, the world is still described as “good” (1 Tim 4:4). God designed it to be cultivated in every way possible. Because of the Fall, there will be those who will war against a biblical culture. The Bible is the story of that war.

The title of the MacArthur video is “Should Christians be Focused on ‘Taking Back the Culture’?” If by the word “focused” he means only concerned about the externals of cultural development without the gospel, then I would answer no.

Chuck McIlhenny, a pastor who started a church in San Francisco in the late 1970s, who fought against “domestic partnership” legislation and had his home fire-bombed, hesitated in 1991 “to predict the future. But if the outcome of the conflicts he has found himself embroiled in, as well as those facing America as a whole, is unclear, the stakes of the conflict are very clear. Those stakes, he claims, are nothing less than the life and death of our society. ‘The homosexual issue,’ he says, ‘is a secondary issue. The real fundamental issue is a secular humanism which rejects Christ and the Scripture as the basis to society. And the ultimate end is always death–death to a society.’”2

Where was the hue and outcry from the Christian community? I forgot. We’re not supposed to be involved in the Culture Wars. God’s law doesn’t apply. We live in the midst of two kingdoms where God’s Word only applies to the Church, and there’s even some debate about that.

While it’s true, as McIlhenny stated, “‘it is the Gospel alone that will stem the tide’ of these moral trends,” this priority did not stop him from working to stem the tide of legislation that would ultimately affect every person in the United States regarding same-sex sexuality and trans-gender legislation like “The Equality Act” that will remove all protections against individuals, businesses, and churches.

There are times when special interest groups, social media platforms, or a government and its courts attack God’s people and biblical morality. Defending against such attacks is what Christians war against, not with force of arms, but with the message of redemption and God’s moral law. The Apostle Paul writes:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).

There is no indication that we should be passive in this struggle. These dark ideologies manifest themselves in real-world ways. Nineteenth-century Bible commentator Albert Barnes (1798-1870) offered the following comment on Ephesians 6:12:

The apostle does not mean to say that Christians had no enemies among men that opposed them, for they were exposed often to fiery persecution; nor that they had nothing to contend with in the carnal and corrupt propensities of their nature, which was true of them then as it is now; but that their main controversy was with the invisible spirits of wickedness that sought to destroy them. They were the source and origin of all their spiritual conflicts, and with them the warfare was to be maintained.

Because there is a spiritual origin of these forces does not mean that they are not manifested in the flesh, governments, courts, politics, media, the art world, entertainment, and the new social media world and impact our world and our ability to spread the gospel. Freedom of the press, speech, and movement make it easier for the gospel to go forth and the Great Commission fulfilled.

Barnes writes the following in the Introduction to his book The Church and Slavery (1857):

There are times when it is important that every man, however humble may be his name, should express his views on great moral, political, and religious subjects. … In a country so extensively under the influence of religion as ours where religion undeniably so much controls public sentiment where so large a portion of the community is connected with the church and where the Christian ministry exerts so wide an influence on the public mind it cannot be an unimportant question what the church is doing and what it ought to do in reference to an evil so vast and so perilous to all our institutions3

He denounced slavery as a moral evil and called on pastors to address “the subject of slavery … as other sins and wrongs are.”4

In his famous 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?,” Frederick Douglass quoted Barnes: “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

  1. From Paul Dallas, The Lost Planet (Philadelphia, PA: The John C. Winston Company, 1956), 3. []
  2. James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 8. []
  3. Albert Barnes, The Church and Slavery (Philadelphia: Parry & McMillan, 1857), 7, 10. []
  4. Barnes, The Church and Slavery, 156). []
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