What I Wish John MacArthur Would Have Said: A Reaction to His Sermon on the Race Riots

I am a pastor’s wife. Most Sunday afternoon lunch times begin with my husband asking me how the sermon went and if there was anything he should have said differently. My husband has said how much my feedback has been helpful to him over the last eighteen years.

I don’t know if Pastor John MacArthur and his wife have similar conversations or not, but I recently listened to his sermon How Should Christians Respond to the Race Riots? and I found myself hoping that someone would offer some respectful and helpful feedback. I figured, why not me?

So, here I am with some specific things John MacArthur said and what I wish he would have said instead. (The video links are cued to the exact time stamp so you can see the quote for yourself.)

Systemic Racism and Police Brutality

What John MacArthur said:

…To conclude that there is Systemic Racism and white hatred and widespread police brutality. Those are lies. Those are not true. (see quote here)

What I wish he would have said:

“I know that there is racism and white hatred and police brutality in our country. My heart goes out to those who have suffered because of it.”

The reality of racism and police brutality is fresh in my mind since I just watched Phil Vischer’s video on Race in America. But even without that video, I know that racism and police brutality is real. I saw the George Floyd video. I listened to the NPR segment on the support network for moms who have lost their children to police brutality. John MacArthur has even previously shared that he experienced racism first hand while traveling with Black evangelical leaders in the American South in the 1960s.

You may say, yes, but John MacArthur said systemic racism and widespread police brutality is a lie. Let’s say for a moment that it’s not systemic and not widespread. Even if only a small number of people experience racism, the least we can do as Christians is to acknowledge the injustice and the heartache and the suffering and the pain of those who do suffer. God notices the few. He visited the unjustly outcast Hagar in the wilderness. He removed Lot from Sodom before destroying it. He let Rahab escape the destruction of the walls of Jericho. The Good Shepherd looks for one lost sheep. God’s compassion goes out to the few. As Christians, our hearts should do the same.

Be Happy

What John MacArthur said:

“You only have this life. Be happy. Don’t be part of disruption. Don’t be part of rebellion. (see quote here)

What I Wish He Would Have Said:

Pray for the oppressed. Pay attention to their plight. Go out of your way to extend the kindness of God.  

I agree that people should not be violently rioting. And that God notices the injustices of this world and will take care of them. We don’t need to take vengeance in our own hands. I’m glad John MacArthur pointed this out.

But what should we be doing while we wait for God’s justice. Is going on with your own happy life the only other choice? Throughout his sermon, he fails to offer other suggestions. Christians, there are other options. What oppressed people are near you? How can you reach out to them as an individual or as a church? Give to or volunteer with an organization that lifts up the oppressed in Jesus’ name. Pray for your neighbors. While you are waiting for God’s answer to prayer about what you can do in particular, you can look at the crowds with compassion. Jesus did.

Who is He Addressing?

At times, I had trouble figuring out who John MacArthur is addressing in his sermon. Who is he telling to be happy? In this particular section, he is reading through Ecclesiastes 3 and he is applying verse 22: “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?”

If he talking to those who are angry about racism and are tempted to join in the riots, then it doesn’t make sense to tell them to go on with their own happy lives. That’s the problem…they are trying to let people know that they are oppressed and don’t have the freedom to have a happy life the way things are right now. Plus, did he really have people in his congregation thinking about joining in the race riots that he needed to address them in a sermon?

On the other hand, if John MacArthur is addressing those who are watching the riots from the sidelines, then he is telling them to move on with their happy lives and pay no attention to those who are rioting. In which case, Ecclesiastes 3:22 sounds heartless. In a previous sermon after the George Floyd murder, John MacArthur shares five applications that he gathered from a discussion with Black men in his congregation. One of the points was “we need to listen… Can we keep our mouths closed long enough to hear the heart of someone else?” I am not sure how “be happy” fits in with listening with a compassionate heart.

Fixing a Fallen World

What John MacArthur Said:

“Stop trying to fix the fallen world. The quest for justice is a vanity. It is a vapor.” (see quote here)

What I Wish He Would Have Said:

Although there will never be perfect justice here on earth, we can accompany the Gospel message with meeting the needs of the lost.”

Multiple times John MacArthur tells his congregation to stop trying to fix a fallen world. Each time I wanted to call out: “we can’t but Jesus can!” Finally, an hour into the sermon, John MacArthur does state that Jesus can reconcile people to God and that is the only way we can be reconciled with each other. Then he warns the listeners about falling into the trap of social justice. In other words, some Christians are jumping into the protests with the expressed intention of not sharing the gospel. This is dangerous to the church. I agree! This is counter to what God wants!

But there is another option. We can both share the Gospel message and meet the needs of the lost…even if what they need at the moment is our public acknowledgement that we know they are suffering. Other times they need more than that. When Jesus ministered here on earth, he met needs and shared the good news. He fed the 5,000 with bread because they were hungry. Then he declared that He is the Bread of Life. He healed people’s bodies and showed that He could heal their souls.

John MacArthur is my brother in Christ and we are on the same team. We are both people who love Jesus and want the world to know the grace of God. All the feedback I give above are given with respect and love.

How do you think that Christians should respond to the race riots? Has God brought any particular Bible passages to mind in the last couple of weeks? Please comment below!

36 thoughts on “What I Wish John MacArthur Would Have Said: A Reaction to His Sermon on the Race Riots

  1. I appreciate your honest thoughts. John MacArthur’s teachings have shaped my life for the good. But we all need to pursue balanced perspectives in these national conversations. I especially appreciate your ending that says we are on the same team, and we need to speak with both love and respect. Wise words, Rachel!

    1. Thank you, Sarah! So many people have learned so much from him. It’s definitely not my intention to tear him down, but just to encourage us all to listen to any sermon or teaching with discerning ears. Thanks for commenting!

    2. If we are not speaking the same thing as the scriptures say, then we are NOT on the same team. John MacArthur has never once spoken about or condemned white supremacy during his entire 50+ year ministry [I checked]. Now he has time speak out against other preachers, Black leaders and movements, Democrats, and anything and everything else that doesn’t agree with him. But he won’t address what the even the FBI and Department of Homeland Security say is the greatest domestic terrorist threat to America. It’s shameful and there is no excuse.

      1. Why would he be condemning white supremacy from the pulpit and where would this play in when presenting the Gospel? The context of his sermon had to do with the fact that the enemy is doing a great job of keeping us divided and this reverse racism that is now running rampant isn’t helping! Just preach the Gospel fellow brothers and sisters!

      2. In a Biblical worldview, Christians do not show favoritism (the book of James plus many other scriptures). A Biblical worldview also shows compassion for those who have been oppressed. There is a lot in Psalms and Proverbs about oppression. Part of what is keeping us divided is the lack of acknowledging that other’s experiences may have been different than our own. And we need to listen in love rather than dismiss people’s concerns.

      3. Thank you for this – it has been troubling my soul and you ate correct – John MacArthur has NOT uttered ONE PEEP about the sin of evangelicals in regards to racism. Nothing about the Christian institutions who practiced segregation. But goes into meticulous detail about the ills of what he perceives is a Lie.

    3. I appreciate your speaking out on pastor macarthur’s sermon. You stated what you wished he’d said and so do I. I need not say more, because you succinctly said it all. He is a great Bible teacher but I must say that I am a bit disappointed with what I consider a one sided dialogue. I wish that you were the speaker on that day. Thank you.

  2. I believe that, while there is certainly freedom for peaceful protests, the rioting, destruction, and violence cannot be pleasing to God, no matter what label you put on it ( The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy..) Our identity must be first in Christ to truly unite us.

    1. I agree that the destruction and violence cannot be pleasing to God. However, I don’t think it’s sufficient to say “let’s just get on with our happy lives.” That totally ignores the problems that our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing.

      1. I am curious to know his thoughts about the violent protests at the white house by so called patriots seeing h how concerned he was about the defunding of the police, and especially seeing how the police themselves were overrun by so called patriots. These people in their aggressive and cold bloodied heartless behavior seemed far worse than some of the looting of other protestors, though they were wrong as well. I saw no equitable understanding of the plight of the one group as opposed to the other. Thank you as a believer for brave enough to highlight how Jesus dealt with the oppressed people of his day and without making excuses for not reaching out.

  3. Excellent, Rachel. Good, deep, Bible-centered thoughts. It is easy to just listen to someone who is widely-respected as a Bible teacher and not remember that he, too, is fallible and may miss some things. He clearly did in this, and I appreciate your taking the time to address those missteps. Bless you, friend!

    1. Thank you, Kameron 🙂 I definitely wanted to tread carefully here since I know he is so popular, but it was just so injust to hear his dismissal of the experience of many people in our country.

  4. I found your post meaningful and encouraging (to know other Christians feel this way). I recently read The Color of Compromise, which talks about how the Church went along with and sometimes even supported racism. Perhaps if more Christians *had* stood up against it, and stood alongside those that were suffering, there wouldn’t be so many angry, hurting people rioting today. Maybe we are reaping what we sowed…

    1. Another friend recommended that book to me recently! I will have to check it out. That sounds like it will be helpful in bringing to my attention how the Church went along with things at times. I am in PA and many times I just figure that racism is a Southern USA problem, but it would be good to learn more if it is otherwise.

  5. Rachel, thank you for your thoughtful and godly perspective in response to John MacArthur. I have learned a great deal from his teaching and preaching over the years. I was extremely disappointed upon hearing his view of the current goings-on in the USA. His stance seems to be that Christians should recognize that we live in a fallen world and be happy while. That is truly only a perspective that I believe a white man living a life of privilege in our country could have. I am a Christian fully committed to Jesus as my Lord. I am African American, mother of male children and grandchildren. I know my sons and grandsons are in real danger of harm at the hands of police. So, I can’t just be happy while I wait to be with Jesus forever. As I wait, I must see the suffering of others, address that suffering as God directs and allows, love the unloved and introduce as many as I can to the One who changed my life, Jesus. John MacArthur is wrong. Systemic racism is real. It remains in place because those with positions of power (government officials, pastors, organizational heads, et al.) know that a major key to maintaining power is to keep particular groups of people from elevating their status. Ultimately, I know that God is sovereign. He is just. He will reveal all truth in His time. Thank you for allowing Him to use you, Rachel, in the process.

    1. Thank you so much, Karen, for sharing your perspective. I like that you said our responsibility is to see the suffering of others, and address that suffering. The more I read Scripture, the more I see that God wants us to speak up and notice injustice!

  6. SO very happy I ran across your article – I am African-American and sometimes, it’s not what IS said, but…..what ISN’T. I was raised in an evangelical atmosphere and the blatant rejection of black Christians in places like Bob Jones University and scores of “bible-teaching” churches saturated in the south were NEVER addressed by mainstream bible teachers in church OR radio.
    It would be healing just to hear an acknowledgement of sins and an invitation to work together.
    I heard one of John MacArthur’s interviews and of American slavery, he casually states, “that was a long time ago – I don’t know what happened.” but then in meticulous detail, lecture about ancient history LoL!!

    1. Thanks for your comments and sharing your perspective, JE. I often don’t know what to say so it’s good to know that an acknowledgement of sins and an invitation to work together is a good start. 🙂

  7. Hi rachel , I just came across your blog .I was scanning on you tube and came across the sermon you mentioned.I was so disappointed and sadden.I knew his name was quite popular.but I never really watched him .he echo similar stance that a christian radio station here in milwaukee portrays.I am a christian of 30 years and african american .I go to a small loving bi racial church a little mire whites then blacks and I love it.I dont get those vibes at my church but sadly its out there the biggest problems with racism is the silence and complacency of the church communities.I live in milwaukee and studies gave proven milwaukee and wisconsin as a whole gas a severe racial segregation issues among other inequalities.but some christian communities do not belueve it I guest , others blatantly over the issues.thank you for your article.

    1. Thank you, Lora, for reading and commenting. I’m glad to hear about the testimony of your own church being a loving, biracial church 🙂 What a beautiful picture of the unity of the body of Christ! I definitely think that churches have been thinking more about racism this year and how they can speak up. Thanks for the reminder to not be silent.

  8. Like many others I have benefited from john macarthur teachings, but was left angry and disappointed at his reactions to the black rioters and the capital rioters. I found his comments on slavery very offensive and his denials of how black people are treated. Justin peters is just as bad. Never once have I heard them condemned the capitol rioters but are quick to condemned the black ones. Rachel thank you so much for your page, may God continue to bless you

  9. Hello Rachel,
    Thank you writing this post! I will start by saying that I am a fan of Pastor John, as I have his Study Bible and Commentary. I listen to his sermons and follow him in general. However, I must say that I was very disappointed by what he hasn’t said considering his intellect. Let’s keep him in our prayers with this issue of race. Thank you again this post.

  10. You are wrong, Macarthur is right, systematic racism does not exist, you are only fueling the racial tension in the protests. Do not be part of the problem and he is very right when he says stop trying a fallen world

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. He is right that this world is fallen. Racism is just one proof that this world is fallen. I do think that God desires us to seek justice while we are on earth here. (Micah 6:8) I don’t think justice will be perfectly executed here on this earth, but I don’t think God wants us to just sit back and say “oh well, that’s just the way it is.” That attitude is not a reflection of God’s heart for justice.

  11. Hi Rachel, so glad I found this blog! I just watched Pastor MacArthur’s sermon on the riots and was very sad at his response about white supremacy and systemic racism. The first thing was, “he just said we live in a fallen world, so why wouldn’t there be racism and white supremacy”. I was sad because I really like MacArthur’s messages but this one missed the mark in my opinion. As an African-American man, it was hurtful for him to ignore what is clearly going on in America. We are not making this up. This may sound bad but messages like this gave me an eery feeling of what it might’ve been like hearing a pro-slavery message preached during the slavery times in America. God’s will is justice and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Compassion and empathy are a big part of that. Thank you for this post. May God bless you with more of Himself. Finish the race strong for our King Jesus!

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this. What I want people to understand is that John MacArthur is a man who lived through some of the most wicked, racist, evil times in American history. Yet, he is no where on record ever fighting against racism and injustice. This is a man who was raises by a father who supported a school that very openly misrepresented Christ through their very blatant hatred of black Christians, to the point of banning them from the school and even banning marriage to them. MacArthur went on to make his church a safe haven for Pastors who continued to financially support and attend the last school who fought to continue to uphold hatred against African Americans in recent years, up until the year 2000!! John MacArthur frequently praised the racist founder and the school over the years, NEVER condemning their racist misrepresentation of Christ. So, with this understanding, we should expect that this man would never think to show himself a brother to black people as a whole, but especially black Christians because he has never cared about them. Why should be surprised that a man with his history of indifference to the suffering and hatred of blacks among those who call themselves Christians, to have empathy for a black man named George Floyd, who was brutally murdered by a white man. I would expect for a man like him to show his true heart and not even be able to pretend to care about a black man being unjustyly murdered by a white cop. I would tell anyone to lower their expectations when it comes to MacArthur. He has told us, through his actions for years, what he thinks about black people. What would have shocked me is if John MacArthur would have shown sympathy and love to the black community because in his 80+ years on this earth, he has never done such a thing.

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